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Community buzz

AgCentral Cooperative is part of a joint effort to raise the profile of honey bees in Monroe County
Story and photos by Mark E. Johnson 4/23/2021


Madisonville beekeeper Eddie Lovin looks on as Scott Venable, president of the Monroe County Beekeepers Association (MCBA), delivers comments at the March 19 dedication of a new apiary at the grounds of the recently opened Monroe County Justice Center.
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Honey bees are on the rise in Madisonville. In fact, at least 40,000 have recently been relocated to the newly opened, $30 million Monroe County Justice Center.

Two hives — the first of four — were installed on the grounds of the facility as part of a joint effort spearheaded by the Monroe County Beekeepers Association (MCBA). With the blessings of the Mayor’s office and the Justice Center, some three acres of greenspace surrounding the state-of-the-art structure have been earmarked as a community apiary that will serve as a living educational exhibit. The apiary was dedicated at a March 19 event attended by MCBA members and various community leaders, including AgCentral Cooperative Madisonville Store Manager Mark Mills, whose Co-op donated various items to the endeavor.

“We were just honored to be involved with such a worthwhile project,” says Mills, noting that the Co-op donated geotextile fabric, rebar, and 5,000 square feet of crimson clover seed. “This is exactly the type of positive community effort that we like to be a part of. In addition to serving Madisonville-area beekeepers, this apiary will raise community awareness of the importance of pollinators as they relate to agriculture.”

The project was initiated when the MCBA began scouting for an appropriate spot for new training grounds, says association president Scott Venable.

“Interest in beekeeping has really taken off over the past several years, so we were looking for a central location that could serve as an operating apiary that would allow us to do workshops and training for new beekeepers,” says Venable. “This need happened to coincide with the completion of the new Justice Center. We approached the Mayor’s office, and they put us in touch with Brandon West, the county maintenance director. Before long, we had permission to create an apiary on the site.”

West says the project was the “perfect fit” for the new facility.

“The Justice Center was a major undertaking — nearly 12 years in the making — so we were anxious to find ways to draw community attention to it,” West explains. “The apiary site just seemed like a logical location — out away from the building, plenty of parking space, and lots of room for the MCBA to do their presentations and training.”

There are also plans, West adds, to create an outreach program allowing some of the inmates to help care for the hives.

“We feel like this has the potential to be a great learning experience,” says West. “Inmates could practice valuable skills that could benefit them personally as well as their community in the future. We just see a lot of positive directions this project can go.”

Venable says that as the apiary began to come together, the project grew in scope. In addition to the potential inmate program, the MCBA also plans to create a veteran’s outreach component for military vets interested in beekeeping.

“This apiary — and beekeeping in general— has just opened a lot of doors that we didn’t anticipate,” he says. “Just recently, we met with the USDA, the Monroe County Soil Conservation District, and the Native Pollinator Program to develop a planting plan for the grounds surrounding the apiary, and Fort Loudon Electric Cooperative stepped up to coordinate a generous donation of plants. Over the next several years, much of the site will be planted with trees, shrubs, and flowers that will support not only the bees, but many other pollinating species. We will also install a walking trail that will be a real showcase for Madisonville.”

The art department of nearby Sequoyah High School is even getting involved by creating informational signage to be erected at the apiary site.

“They are creating the signage as part of their curriculum,” Venable explains. “The art teacher is going to design a draft at the direction of the MCBA, and we hope to get that completed sometime soon. It’s just neat how this has turned into such a group effort.”

For more information about the apiary and the Monroe County Beekeepers

Association, contact Scott Venable at or 423-337-1498. Association meetings are free to the public and are held the second Tuesday of each month at Journey of Faith Church at 442 Old Ballplay Rd. in Madisonville. Visit the apiary and future greenspace at the Monroe County Justice Center located at 4500 New Highway 68 in Madisonville.

Why keep bees?

Although beekeeping is an age-old endeavor, it has seen an uptick in popularity during the COVID crisis. Mark Mills, manager of the Madisonville store of AgCentral Cooperative, says he’s not surprised to see the increased interest in beekeeping.

“I think it goes hand-in-hand with the trend toward local foods,” Mills says. “People want to know where their food comes from. And when COVID kicked in last year, we saw a huge spike in the sale of garden seed, live plants, and gardening tools, as well as beekeeping supplies. Introducing more people to beekeeping is certainly one of the positives of the pandemic.”

Monroe County Beekeeper Association president Scott Venable says that, while it might not seem logical, working with bees is therapeutic for the stresses of 21st century life.

“It’s hard to think of that in terms of stinging insects, but it’s true,” Venable says. “Keeping bees requires you to move slowly and calmly, and just naturally lowers stress. I think that’s why you see so many veterans take up beekeeping; it’s awesome therapy.”

In addition to these personal benefits, keeping a healthy pollinator population is critical to agricultural production. According to The Bee Conservancy, pollinating bees contribute over $15 billion to the value of U.S. crop production, particularly in flowering fruits and vegetables. Without them, the U.S. food chain would lose all of its almond production and 90 percent of apples, onions, blueberries, cucumbers, and carrots, in addition to other plant species. Studies show that every third bite of the food Americans eat can be attributed to bee activity.

The loss of bees to colony collapse disorder (CCD), a phenomenon that resulted in the loss of 61 percent of American honey bees between 1947 and 2008, is another reason why cultivating the insects is critical. In addition to fruits and vegetables production, CCD impacts production of clover, hay, and other forage crops, ultimately increasing feed costs for dairy and beef producers.

Venable says these figures illustrate the importance of bolstering honey bee populations across the state and adds that most Tennessee counties have beekeeper associations.

“These creatures need our help to survive and thrive, just as we need them to pollinate our crops,” Venable says. “I encourage folks to seek out their local beekeeping club and attend a meeting or two. Every club offers assistance to new beekeepers. Plus, I guarantee you’ll make some new friends.”

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