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Camp to teach youth about native bees

ISU Extension organizes Bee Camp Tuesday

Jasper County youth will be buzzing about native bees Tuesday as the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach hosts a Bee Camp to teach area youth about native bees.

Now, if you’re thinking about honey bees, think again. This program focuses on the lesser known species of bees and the important role they serve in pollination of crops and vegetables.

Kara Warrick, 4-H youth assistant for the Jasper County ISU Extension office said the Bee Camp is one of several camps the extension offers in the county throughout the summer. At Tuesday’s event, there will be Iowa State University specialists on hand and a youth coordinator to lead the camp activities.

Warrick said the extension hosted a camp about butterfly pollinators last year, so this Bee Camp is a continuation of sorts from last year.

“I think a lot of people are really starting to move toward bringing them back, saving them. That’s why we want to give awareness to kids and their families so holding a day camp and trying to get them excited about it,”  Warrick said.

The camp will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Sunset Park in Newton. The camp is open to all area youth in grades third through fifth. To register, contact Warwick at 641-792-6433 or email The cost for the camp is $10 which includes two snacks and all necessary camp materials.

The camp is part of a bigger project for the ISU Extension and Outreach. Lynne Campbell, STEM professional development specialist, said the program began with a grant from the National 4-H Council [and sponsored by Bayer]. Researchers on the ISU campus went about developing a curriculum to help teach youth about the importance of pollinators.

“The program is actually being implemented in five states, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri and Michigan. The program is called Ag Innovators Experience. It is designed to increase youth’s understanding of agriculture, promote STEM skills, teamwork and overall understanding for this particular experience is the connection of pollinators to our food supply,” Campbell said.

The Jasper County camp is one of 60 events to help deliver the programming to youth. Maya Hayslett, crop sciences youth education specialist at the ISU Extension, said these events are part of the Native Bee Challenge and are being held at 40 different locations in 27 different counties all across the state. These events include workshops, school events, day camps, overnight camps, STEM festivals, and outdoor learning events such as conservation days and field days.

The Jasper County camp will have three main activities. First the attendees will build a model for pollination. This will help them understand how pollination works. They will learn about different kinds of native bees, such at the mason bees, leafcutter bees, bumble bees and more. Each bee pollinates in either the spring or summer and can be generalists or specialists. During the activity, youth will build a nest and then go collect pollen to illustrate the bee’s role in agriculture.

The second activity uses a magnetic map with the different stakeholders in a community. Each team of youth will have a chance to decide what role each of these people play in the pollinator process.

“There’s a magnetic map also where they are asked to be part of the community. There’s different roles. There’s farmers, there’s civic leaders, there’s homeowners, there’s a school. They are asked to think about ways they can increase habitats beneficial for bees and then adding bees that are also beneficial for crops,” Campbell said.

The final activity allows the youth to build a native bee nest that they can take home with them. Native bees are unlike honey bees, because they don’t live in hives. They build their nests in sticks or fallen stems, called tubes, or they will nest in the ground. So campers will have the chance to apply what they learn after they leave, they are given 14 tubes of different sizes to build their own nest.

“Native bees come in different sizes. There small, medium and large native bees. Each nest has a unique number that is attached to a Google map system. People can register their nest,” Campbell said.

Campbell said the program is designed for youth to teach them about the importance to try to preserve the habitat for the native bees. They play a big role in the production and yield of crops and vegetables. Understanding the importance of native bees can help improve agricultural practices for the future.

“(Teaching youth) is the model for this particular grant. It’s proving to be immensely successful. Youth are our next generation of decision makers. We need to insure that they have these experiences so they can be effective leaders. So they can solve the world’s problems that they are going to inherit,” Campbell said.

Teaching the importance of the bees to youth is just one step in the equation. Everyone can play a part in the solution, Campbell said. Once the awareness and understanding are there, people can begin to implement changes to help improve the native bee population.

“That’s another message that I think is critical. You can plant habitat on your porch if you live in an apartment building. Or you can take some non-productive land out of production in your farm field and make that into pollinator habitat because you’re losing money on that plot of land anyway,” Campbell said.

The effort to improve the habitat is beginning now, before it becomes a bigger problem than people can control.

“Nobody is going to really worry about this until it affects their food supply which it could. It’s our crops. It’s our vegetables. It’s tomatoes, it’s apples, cherries, almonds all of those things rely on insect pollination,” Campbell said.

Native Bee Network

The grant program is working with business partner, Dave Hunter, owner and operator of Crown Bees. Hunter is passionate educating farmers and gardeners about the importance of native bees to agriculture.

Hunter started his career as an engineer, working in corporate America. He was a hobby native bee enthusiast, but he became so interested in their role, he gave up his engineering career and focused on his native bee work.

“That’s the other thing that we want people to see are the STEM careers that are possible through these experiences,” Campbell said.

He uses the Native Bee Network because he wants to know where these native bees are located. Together with the researchers at ISU, they use this network to help track the bee population. This is what the youth have a chance to be a part of when they build their native bee nest at the camp.

Native Bee Difference

Part of the mission of the program is to teach people the difference between the native bees and the bees everyone always thinks of first, the honey bee. What most people don’t realize is there are more than 4,000 different species of native bees, which are different from the honey bees people think of.

“Most people have know if its a bee, a fly or a wasp. Everybody kinda of lumps it into this bad category of “wasps I’m going to get stung” when these native bees are actually gentle bees,” Campbell said.

Native bees are more effective pollinators. They are what Campbell calls “messy pollinators” but that’s what makes them more effective. Campbell used an apple orchard for example. She said two mason bees could pollinate the same amount of area that 100 honey bees could handle.

It’s the work of all those involved to deliver these facts to people to further the understanding of the native bees.

“That’s really what our land grant mission is at ISU Extension Outreach is sharing this research and the good, solid science with the citizens of Iowa and beyond,” Campbell said.

Campbell said the youth program has been successful so far in its implementation. The program’s goal was to reach 1,000 youth in each of the five states participating in the program. Iowa and Kansas each have already exceeded 2,000 youth with similar numbers from Nebraska, Missouri and Michigan. Campbell expects the program to reach as many as 10,000 youth by the end of the grant period.

To find out more about the Native Bee Challenge, visit the website at

Contact Pam Pratt at 641-792-3121 ext. 6530 or

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