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Beekeepers Buzz Over Sustainability Grant

By Meg P. Bernhard, Contributing Writer

Harvard will be abuzz with more than just tourists and students rushing to class, thanks to a $2500 grant to the Harvard Undergraduate Beekeepers awarded from the Office of Sustainability.

The Undergraduate Beekeepers plans to assemble beehives across campus and test pollen samples for chemical residue, following an organic landscaping program in 2008 that sought to eliminate the use of pesticides and herbicides across 90 acres of Harvard property.

“Honeybee hives are a direct indicator of environmental health,” said Li E. K. Murphy ’15, co-president of the organization. “Harvard has this huge commitment to organic landscaping, and we want to define its impact.”

The Undergraduate Beekeepers, who work to raise awareness about the importance of bees to the environment and human life, will use the hives to conduct research how the health of honeybee colonies is affected when foraging in an urban ecosystem free of pesticides. The group already maintains one hive in the Pforzheimer Breezeway.

“Our long term goal is to set up a couple of hives on campus so we’re overlapping the whole area,” said Harvard School of Public Health professor Chensheng A. Lu, who is the faculty advisor for the organization.

In 2008, Harvard launched an organic landscaping program that eliminated use of pesticides and herbicides across 90 acres of Harvard property, including Harvard Yard. In its place, Campus Services uses organic methods, such as compost teas, to maintain Harvard’s landscaping.

Lu, whose research has recently analyzed the chronic effects of pesticides on honeybee colonies, said he hoped the project would expand beyond the Undergraduate Beekeepers to students who are interested in studying honeybees.

Likewise, Alice S. Han ’16, a member of the Harvard Undergraduate Beekeepers who has been with the group since its inception in 2012, said she hoped the project would spread awareness to students about the importance of bees to humans.

“We should be more ecologically responsible about taking care of bees,” Han said. “They pollinate all these plants that we consume. Without them, many of our foods would no longer be existent.”

The Undergraduate Beekeepers’ project still needs to be approved by Harvard Environmental Health and Safety, according to the Office for Sustainability.

However, the Student Sustainability Grant Program has already endorsed the project, which could eventually become a longer-term study.

“It’s exciting to see students trying to better understand the implications of human activity on bee populations and the urban landscape,” Heather Henriksen, Director of the Office for Sustainability, wrote in a statement.

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