New Northwest Colorado nonprofit educates kids about bees
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — With a mission to inspire a new generation of beekeepers, Bethany Karulak-Baker launched her Bee the Future nonprofit last spring.
Education is at the core — both in terms of the practical skills of beekeeping.
Karulak-Baker and her master beekeeper Shannon Defries talk to students about bee anatomy, the importance of pollinators for the planet, bee communication and the honeybee life cycle — “all the ways in which honeybees are wildly intelligent — like pattern recognition, the ability to do basic math, and human face recognition,” Karulak-Baker said.
For each school and group she’s worked with, the program looks a little different. At Montessori, the kids can choose the bee class as one of their enrichment electives, and each course lasts nine weeks.
And Karulak-Baker is not above using the age old trick of sugar bribery for extra incentive — the kids get to taste honey during each session.
Before she started the nonprofit, Karulak-Baker and her husband founded Outlaw Apiaries in 2017. They started with 20 hives and have now grown to 500 hives and about 25 million bees. Based in Hayden but with bees buzzing all over Routt and Moffat counties, their honey can be found in local stores and seasonally at farmers markets. They also experiment with flavors, like dried apple and cinnamon stick honey and bourbon Madagascar vanilla bean creamed honey.
At Wednesday’s class, the students were gifted an extra special sweet treat — scoops of honey straight off a block of honeycomb, made by her bees about six weeks ago.
“You can’t get more pure than that,” Karulak-Baker told the kids as sticky fingers stretched out for another scoop of golden gooeyness.
Much of the class’s exploration into beekeeping involved a question-and-answer format.
“Did you get stinged yet?” one boy asked Karulak-Baker.
“I’ve gotten stung so many times I’ve been in the hospital,” she answered.
Other inquiries included, “Why is honey so sticky?” “Why do bees live in hives?” “What eats honeybees?” And “Why do bees swarm?
Karulak-Baker and Defries showed the students their beekeeping suits.
“I was in the Army, so I picked camo,” Karulak-Baker said, as she explained the importance of the veil. “Remember they are crawling all over your face all the time.”
“And they are attracted to the CO2 coming out of your mouth,” Defries added.
They talked about monoculture farming, the differences between honey bees and some native species of bees and causes of colony collapse.
They also discussed protecting the hives from bears, shipping bees to California in the winter to help with almond pollination and selecting bees for different genetic characteristics, such as their ability to protect the queen.
Defries described the different personalities of hives, especially two in downtown Steamboat — one really nice hive run by a queen bee named Princess Peach, and one much more aggressive hive ruled by Queen Lefty.
At this, one boy informed the group, “My grandfather is named Lefty, and he never spits out his tobacco.”
They talked about the “waggle dance,” which bees use to communicate where to find a water source, the best flowers or another hive.
Several of the students said they had relatives who kept bees, and that was why they wanted to learn more.
Karulak-Baker and Bee the Future educate outside of the classroom as well.
Karulak-Baker has 20 hives dedicated solely to the nonprofit, which she uses to teach kids how to tend bees. She also has a 10-frame observation hive at her home in Hayden and a traveling observation hive for safe viewing in classrooms.
With the nonprofit “still in its infancy,” Karulak-Baker is working on designing a curriculum for high-school aged kids.
Her programs are free to the schools and students and open to any school-aged children, whether homeschooled or enrolled.
With two preschool-aged kids of her own, the honey company and finishing her dissertation for a master’s degree in sports psychology, Karulak-Baker admits it’s a bit of a scramble to fulfill the growing number of requests for her educational program. And so far, all expenses have been out of pocket. But she’s starting the process of applying for grants and planning fundraisers.
She’s fueled with a lot of passion and determined to give back to the community she describes as having been overwhelmingly supportive to her. She’s also deeply dedicated to her nonprofit’s mission statement: “To empower Routt and Moffat County youth by teaching both the skills needed to become beekeepers as well as educating our youth about saving the honeybee population and protecting all pollinators.”
Call Karulak-Baker at 303-345-1616 or email beethefutureUSA@gmail.com for more information. Tax-deductible donations may be sent to Bee the Future, PO Box 1705, Hayden, CO 81639.