Out of work coal miners in West Virginia are getting retrained as beekeepers to help maintain bee populations in the state.
Coal mining is dying, thankfully. As perhaps the worst way of generating electricity in terms of pollution, there aren’t many people lamenting the death of the coal industry. Except, of course, people who work as coal miners. They’re still hoping that coal will bounce back, but the numbers aren’t looking good there.
Since 1998, the coal industry has lost almost 100,000 jobs in the US. The price if coal is down 50% as more and more utilities switch to renewable or less pollutive sources of energy. And while this might be considered a win for an environment, there’s a real price to be paid for the coal industries demise.
Poverty in West Virginia is at a staggering 19.1%. That means one-fifth of the state is living at or below the poverty line.
But there’s one non-profit that’s trying to get out of work coal miners back on their feet, one beehive at a time.
They’re called the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective, an organization that takes destitute West Virginians and teaches them all about bees. So far, they’ve trained 35 new beekeepers since 2018 and have plans to teach 50 more. The Collective provides all necessary training and supplies free of charge and even gives graduates a discount on getting their first hive.
The Beekeeping Collective is operated by Appalachian Headwaters, a nonprofit dedicated to finding sustainable job opportunities for West Virginians. They were created from seed money of $7.5 million from a lawsuit against Alpha Natural Resources, a coal mine operator that violated the Clean Water Act.
Now they’re paying former miners to learn how to take care of bees. There’s a certain poetry in that.
However, beekeeping isn’t a full-time career for most. Each harvest nets beekeepers 60-100 lbs of honey, and at an average price per pound in 2018 at $7.32, that works out to $732 per hive per season with optimistic yields. If a beekeeper is in charge of 20 hives, that’s a little less than $15,000 annually.
There’s more to be made from the wax, which can be used to create candles or lip balm, but it’s no replacement for a coal mining job paying close to six figures.
Still, any amount of income is better than nothing for an area with one of the worst poverty rates in the US.