by Katie Boehnlein
arah Red-Laird, or “Bee Girl” is an Ashland, OR native who says that she has been fascinated with honeybees since her early childhood. On the playground in elementary school, she would pick up bees and pet them to impress other kids. Her aunt’s partner, a beekeeper, was also a major influence on Sarah, giving her honeycomb to taste during harvest season.
“There’s nothing like eating fresh honeycomb as a toddler to sell you on bees for life!” Sarah recalls.
Many years later, the Davidson Honors Program at University of Montana gave Sarah the opportunity to fully investigate her childhood fascination. Allowed to write on any topic of her choice for her senior thesis, she chose beekeeping and Colony Collapse Disorder. Over the course of this project, she learned beekeeping skills in the field and researched in the university’s lab. She caught on quickly and after she had finished the project, she was able to present her findings at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research to a standing room only audience and was promptly offered a research position with University of Montana.
When Sarah landed back in Ashland on what she thought would be a short hiatus, her skills as a beekeeper were immediately sought after. She was asked to help community members set up hives and speak in classrooms as well as to the larger community. Hence, “Bee Girl” was born. Today, Sarah’s work with apiary-based education spans not only many cities and counties in Oregon, but world-wide as well. Her nonprofit, which she also calls “Bee Girl,” (http://www.beegirl.org/) still works locally, presenting at individual classrooms and to the broader public, and she has honed an presentation engaging all five senses. She engrosses her audience in the “world of the honeybee” by bringing honey to taste, honeycomb to feel, and in the height of bee season, a live observation hive to see and hear. She also brings costumes along for kids to dress up as bees- antennae, crowns, tutus, wings, stingers, and all. Sarah has traveled to through Oregon and to the East Coast twice with her presentation, will be in Louisiana and Kentucky in 2014, and even hopes to travel to Kenya soon to speak there. Sarah’s reputation spans to far reaches, as she heads up the Kids and Bees Program for the American Beekeeping Federation (http://www.abfnet.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=16) and hopes to hold a position as US Ambassador for the International Bee Research Association.
Oregon is lucky to have Sarah as their local “Bee Girl” and she has proven herself as quite the mentor in Ashland. Ryan King, another one of our “Honeybee Heroes,” sought out Sarah when he began the Ashland Apiary project as part of his graduate studies. When he realized that he had a “walking beecyclopedia” in town, they began their fantastic partnership of engaging the Ashland community, especially students, in the art of beekeeping. For more information about the beginnings of the Ashland Apiary Project, you can read Ryan’s “Honeybee Heroes” profile (http://clearingmagazine.org/archives/8599). Since Ryan has recently graduated from Southern Oregon University, Sarah now acts as co-director of the SOU Beekeeping Club, “teaching students not only how to keep bees but how to become advocates for bees and sustainable farming.” She leads meetings once per week on campus and coordinates field learning and working field trips to local bee-related sites. In the future, Sarah hopes to teach beekeeping courses in the spring and fall through the SOU Sustainability Center (http://www.sou.edu/sustainable/center-for-sustainability/index.html).
It is evident that Sarah Red-Laird lives and breathes the world of the honeybee. Her passion for educating students of all ages about such an inspiring species is evident and tangible. A student in one of her beekeeping classes puts it this way: “Thank you so much for leading us to care for our bees. You are a wonderful teacher, and your love for the bees shines through everything you do.” As is the case with many educators who love honeybees, one of Sarah’s main goals in her work is to dispel fear surrounding bees. She sees her youngest students as the key to reversing this social fear. “That is why I do what I do,” she says, “to inspire a sense of fascination, wonder, and love at a young age, that I hope turns to understanding or even advocacy as these kids grow into our leaders of tomorrow.” She also sees the need for our society to educate a generation of citizens that understand the complexity of our modern food system and question its flaws. When asked why pollinator education is so important, she answered, “If you can capture the heart and imagination of a child, and release the sweetness and light of the honeybee in them- they will never forget it. By saving the bee, they will save our world.” Bee-autiful. Thank you, Sarah, for being an inspiring leader in the field of pollinator education!
You can learn more about Sarah and her passion for beekeeping in this installment of “Immense Possibilities,” featuring Sarah (http://www.immensepossibilities.org/ipr-podcasts/bee-keeping/).
Katie Boehnlein is a writer/intern for CLEARING magazine and teaching assistant at Catlin Gabel School in Portland, Oregon. She enjoys writing about the endless expressions of place-based education, inspired by so many creative teachers. Katie blogs about her own ecological and urban adventures at “In the Midst,” which can be found at kboehnlein.wordpress.com.