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Students buzzing about science

West Fargo High School science teacher Sara Forness takes the lid off of a hive to check on the status of the queen bee. The beehive is part of a science project by the students. Dave Wallis

This fall, West Fargo High School students will have the opportunity to get up close and personal with a creature they tend to avoid.

Science teacher Sara Forness, in her 20th year as a West Fargo educator, will have her environmental science and field biology classes look into the beekeeping and honey gathering industry.

“It’s a pretty important issue for biodiversity,” Forness said. “Environmental science will go at it more as a sustainable agriculture, and field biology will look at having bees and what their roles are in that ecosystem.”

This is being done thanks to a $500 grant from the North Dakota Agriculture in the Classroom program which, according to Forness, paid for “almost everything,” including $100 worth of bees, hives and an observation hive that will allow students to safely view active bees while they work.

Prior to registering for her classes, Forness’ students will have to sign a waiver saying they are not allergic to bees. After that, students “gutsy enough” will be able to work hands-on with the bees.

Forness got the idea to provide this opportunity to her students after lots of reading about colony collapse disorder, an ever-increasing circumstance in which worker bees abruptly disappear from their hives or colonies. The list of possible causes of the disorder  ranges from pesticides to genetically modified crops to even electromagnetic radiation.

“I find (colony collapse disorder) very disturbing from the environmental perspective,” Forness said. “The more research I do, the more strikes against the bees I see — the pesticide use and the genetically modified crops and the lack of habitat. We are losing these organisms, and we have been using them for agriculture for such a long time.”

With honeybees pollinating much of our crops, an increased disappearance of these insects would mean higher prices of many foods, severely limiting non-native foods availability in the area.

“You just wouldn’t have things like strawberries here,” Forness said. “Unless a certain food is in season in your region, you won’t be able to afford it, or maybe not even be able to get it.”

Students will look into the pollination process bees go through, as well as the benefits it has on crops.

“We want to help them understand where their food crops come from, and what is a healthful food crop,” Forness said. “There is a difference between an organically raised tomato and a grocery store tomato. Not having beneficial insects in the picture is taking its toll on the quality of our food supply.”

Forness has already mentioned to her students that her fall classes – and possibly her classes for the next few years – will look into beekeeping and honey gathering, and the response has been fairly positive.

“I have already shown them the inside of an empty hive,” Forness said. “They seem anxious to learn about how bees actually make honey, because they have no idea. When I told them it was ‘bee vomit,’ they were a little grossed out.”

Forness also hopes to have her students take part in a “cook-off” competition, using honey as a key part of their recipe.

Ultimately, Forness hopes to show her students the effects that humans have on the land and the environment.

“How we affect the land is affecting us,” Forness said. “The reliance we have on bees is amazing, and if you are not directly related to the beekeeping or fruit-raising industry, you are probably totally unaware of what goes into that.”