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#OTGYpsi: Beekeeping Keeps The City Buzzing With Honeybee Activities

This week for "On The Ground Ypsi," Lisa Barry and Sarah Rigg talk about the many different beekeeping activities in Ypsilanti, also officially certified as a "Bee City" in the United States.


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Sarah Rigg's Feature Article: Ypsilanti beekeepers find love, healing, and fulfillment through their hobby

Bee City USA

Bee City USA: "Ypsilanti, Michigan, Steps Up For Pollinators!"

Bee Warriors

Festival of the Honey Bee

Bee Safe Neighborhoods

Nature: "A cocktail of pesticides, parasites and hunger leaves bees down and out"


Lisa Barry: You're listening to 89-1 WEMU, and this is "On the Ground Ypsi." I'm Lisa Barry and this is our weekly feature focusing on the Concentrate Media online story written each week by the On the Ground Ypsi project manager Sarah Rigg about positive and impactful things happening in the Ypsilanti area. Each week, Sarah brings one of the people she interviewed for this week's story to talk about that with us here. So, hello, Sarah, and who else is joining us today?

Sarah Rigg: Hi, Lisa. It seems like we should have gotten around to a story about the topic of bees a lot sooner, because Ypsilanti has been designated a Bee City since 2015. But we finally got around to talking to some beekeepers and friends of the bees in Ypsilanti. And I brought with me Cecilia Infante, who is a local beekeeper and teaches beekeeping classes.

Lisa Barry: Welcome. Thanks for joining us.

Cecilia Infante: Hello.

Lisa Barry: Tell us your beekeeping story. When did it all begin?

Cecilia Infante: Well, I am a child of the 60s and early 70s, so, basically, I played outside like kids always did. And I grew up in an area a lot like Ypsi. We just spent our time by streams and rivers, and we were just surrounded by nature. I mean, wildlife wasn't so much wild as it was just life. So I was, I think, drawn to beekeeping, maybe out of an instinct that was conservationist, but really more it was just curiosity. And, about a decade ago, I decided, you know, I wanted to do something about, you know, looked like a pretty deteriorating, rapidly deteriorating situation with pollinators in general. And I thought, "Well, you know, let's see what it takes to keep bees." And so, I started a process of natally immersing myself in online and local resources and took classes. And I haven't looked back. It's kind of surprising how you can go from one to, like, 100 hives. quickly. In Ypsi, we have two hives, but we also have hives on St. Joe's farm, the campus of St. John's Hospital, and a very large yard also in Northfield Township, right next to Superior Township. So I went from, I guess, a curiosity to gung ho. Bees, you know, once you get into it, they sort of change the way you see the world, and they definitely change your life for the better.

Lisa Barry: And you have a great story I want to get to in a moment. But first, I want to say you bees as pollinators, as many do. Some people who, perhaps as a child, stepped on a bee and got stung in the foot may have--I don't know who that might be--who may have a fear of bees. So what do you say to that?

Cecilia Infante: Well, that's one of the things that we definitely address. People are interested in getting into beekeeping. And as part of our sustainable beekeeping practices classes, it's really important to be an ethical beekeeper, which means being mindful of your neighbors and of others' experiences of bees. And often, that bee is stepped on could have been a bumblebee. Very often, these stings are from yellowjackets and not honeybees, but honeybees tend to have the most visibility. So they get the bad rap. And you just have to know how to to help others feel more comfortable around bees and help them know what to do. In the case of the beesting-- absolutely mandatory--have a EpiPen. So, there are things that you can do as a beekeeper and as just somebody interested in bees to make sure that people have good relationships with them and pollinators in general because it's not just honeybees that need a lot of support.

Lisa Barry: Speaking of relationships, I understand you have sort of a bee love story.

Cecilia Infante: Yes. So, I apparently had been taking a class with someone who did not introduce himself to me until months after it was over. This is a eight-month beekeeping class, mind you. And it was because of my training is research in literature and history. And I became very interested in the way that beekeeping is used as a form of rehabilitation therapy for wounded warriors, particularly the American tradition following World War Two of rehabilitating disabled veterans when they came home. And in mentioning this research in class, this person kind of took note of it and got in touch with me via email to introduce himself. He's Purple Heart OEF veteran, combat veteran. And he had gotten into beekeeping as a form of therapy for his PTSD and TBI. And we met, and we married, and we've been together as a team. Our organization is called Bee Warriors, and we work as an educational as well as an organization focused on the psychological and health benefits of beekeeping. So, again, that's one of the reasons why we're at St. John's Hospital campus, in part to help with their process of growing food for patients and pollination, but also to help educate people about, you know, just a hive as an apothecary. So, it is an amazing healing resource.

Lisa Barry: While this seems like there's a lot to explore along those lines, but I want to get back to Sarah Rigg and find out who else you talked to for this week's story.

Sarah Rigg: Yeah, so I talked to Lisa Bashert, who is a long time resident of Ypsilanti, who kept these for many years. She currently has a shoulder injury that makes it difficult to move hives around things. So, she's not currently beekeeping, but she has for many years. She set up the beehives at the Ypsi food co-op. She worked with several other people to get Ypsilanti designated to Bee City USA. So, if you're designated a Bee City USA, it means that, as a municipality, you promised to advertise the plight of the bee and do things, like planting pollinator-friendly plants throughout the city and forego certain kinds of spraying. So, it basically shows that you are in support of bees through both policy and practice.

Lisa Barry: And Ypsilanti also has a honeybee festival, do they not?

Sarah Rigg: They do, yeah. The Festival of the Honey bee. And there's also Ypsilanti's Normal Park is a bee safe neighborhood, and that basically means you need to get enough people and continuous lots that promise not to use pesticides and insecticides that are poisonous to bees and to, you know, generally use bee friendly practices. And then I also spoke to Charlotte Thurston from Growing Hope. Now, they don't have bees on their urban farm right now. They have in the past, but bees are obviously very important to their mission.

Lisa Barry: And back to you, Cecilia, for one last question. How much of your life in your day is taken up by beekeeping?

Cecilia Infante: Oh, boy. 110 percent. It doesn't stop, but it's also a pleasure. But it's a lot of work, because if you're interested in getting into beekeeping, be prepared. It is a calling, and it's a lifestyle, and it's a real lot of work.

Lisa Barry: But you have said there's healing in beekeeping, right?

Cecilia Infante: Absolutely. It's often called apotherapy. But, I had an accident in the backyard one day, where I dropped a box, and I got stung really badly in my left hand and discovered after the swelling went down that I didn't have any arthritis. And in fact, I didn't have any arthritis for almost a year. I could not believe what had happened to me. So I, yes, began the voyage of discovering all the products that the bees make that we can use to improve our health and even to treat serious conditions like my arthritis.

Lisa Barry: Just to be clear, you're saying the bee sting healed your arthritis?

Cecilia Infante: Well, it didn't heal it, in so much as it dealt with the inflammation that causes so much of the pain with your arthritis. There's a lot of literature. People have been stinging for arthritis for millennia. I mean, still in a lot of countries, you know, old ladies get stings in their knees, and it is very, very common, less well known in the United States, unfortunately, but becoming more so.

Lisa Barry: So interesting at so many different levels. Cecilia Infante, thanks so much for sharing your story with us. And, Sarah Rigg, always good to talk to you.

Sarah Rigg: Thanks, Lisa.

Cecilia Infante: Thank you. What a pleasure.

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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