My Hometown: Southwest Honey Co.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A lot of our food consumption starts from pollination from honey bees. Experts predict if their decline continues at the rate it’s going now, honey bees could be extinct by 2035. This is a global trend. The people at Southwest Honey Co. are determined to do something now before it’s too late.

You don’t have to worry. Honey bees really don’t want to sting you. Actually, they’re on a mission. “They’re very focused on what they’re doing which is finding nectar and pollen to create honey and survive the winter and they don’t really care what we are doing,” Megan Ryan said.

Ryan and her longtime friend Alex Cornwell are the creators of Southwest Honey Co. The two discovered a love and passion in honey bees and they want to the community to do the same.”It makes sense to do something now before they really start going extinct,” Cornwell said.

So they built their main home at the Southwest Conservation Club. “Southwest Honey Co. was founded with education in mind but also the preservation of honey bees and working towards sustainability and creating homes for bees that is healthy and natural and good for the bees,” Ryan said.

It’s an avenue for education and beekeeping designed for children and adults. A significant cause as experts predict honey bees are globally trending toward extinction. As the main pollinator for a lot of our foods, it’s a scary estimate. “All of our plants, our fruits, our vegetables. It would change a lot about the way we do agriculture and a lot in the terms of the food we have access to,” Ryan said.

We suited up to get up close and learn more. We ended up experiencing an incredibly rare moment. In the middle of thousands of bees, there she was. The queen bee. The hives were home to 60,000-80,000 bees. The first sheet we pulled out, she was on there. Then she started layng eggs, something even rarer to catch. Maybe it was our lucky day, or maybe the bees also want to get the word out. “They’re serious about their purpose in our ecosystem and our environment.  They aren’t here to bother us. They’re here to do their job.”

Alex and Megan are helping that happen. They spend hours on end preserving the bees, coming full circle to us. “This has become more than just a hobby. I mean, it’s become a passion and a lifestyle for us. Everything’s about the bees now.”

Ryan is a teacher and spends her summers at the club and the other sites around the area they take care of bee like Ares Land Trust or the Botanical Conservatory. “That’s kind of where my heart lies, the education part of it, and spending time with kids and adults sharing the awesomeness of honey bees.”

Cornwell owns a local newspaper. He is most interested in the science of it all. From Wisconsin, he grew up spending a lot of time outdoors. He recommends everyone spend time outside, either with bees or not. “Beekeeping has turned into less of a business and more of a cause-driven organization.”

We also learned how the queen bee is selected. When the queen dies, workers find one of her eggs and feed it a special kind of jelly called royal jelly. Because of that special jelly, it develops into a queen rather than a typical female worker bee, bigger and fed differently than a normal egg or larvae.

The queen’s sole purpose is to lay eggs. She doesn’t feed or bathe herself. The honey bees take care of her. Her lifespan is 3 to 4 years while the honey bee’s average life cycle is only weeks or months depending on what season they’re born in.

Hives at Southwest Honey Co. are close to extraction. You can still buy some honey or visit the club but soon the bees will go away for the winter. You can also keep your eye out for future events. Soon, the bees curl up in a ball around the queen and protect the queen until spring.