In February of 2009, OCI Executive Chef Brian Wilke decided that the school would purchase a couple Red Wattle heritage pigs, thus giving birth to the “OCI Pig Project.” At the same time, and not coincidentally, we launched the Food Ethics class as part of the management program curriculum. The project was a success on many levels, but most importantly for a culinary school like ours, it became a one-of-a-kind educational tool. This fact lead the OCI executive team to quickly decide to take on a similar project every year.

Introducing — the 20011 “OCI Ethics in Food and Farms” project: “Plan Bee.”

Package Bees arriving at Ruhl Bee Supply

Timeline (links to video)
Package Bees ordered – February 2011
Bees Arrive at Ruhl Bee Supply and are picked up – April
Hive Installation #1 at OCI Chef Instructor Dan Brophy’s backyard garden
Hive Installation #2 at OCI graduate Stacy Givens’ The Side Yard Farm annex
Hive Installation #3 at Wealth Underground urban farm

Chefs Brophy, White, Wilke

Q&A with OCI Key Players
Woody Bailey, OCI Jack-of-all-Trades
Brian Wilke, OCI Executive Chef and Director of Education
Dan Brophy, OCI Chef Instructor (and Master Gardener)
Ramona White, OCI Food Ethics Instructor

How did “Plan Bee” originate?

Woody Bailey

Bailey: I think Chef Brophy brought up the idea because he had received a notice for a beekeeping class, and Chef Wilke liked it. So the two of them attended the class at Ruhl Bee Supply and from there, it was on.

Brophy: Keeping bees is a way you can eat locally and sustainably, and sugar is hard to find out in the wild. You can’t grow sugar cane in this climate. Also, as a gardener, more bees means more pollination and I’m very interested in that.

What’s “Plan Bee” all about?

Wilke: It’s another wild idea I let Dan Brophy talk me into (laughs). We want to make our students aware of the importance of bees in the homosapien picture. Einstein said if bees go away, humans have about four years left. The hive collapse issue, people don’t understand how critical it could be. It’s not just another sound bite on CNN. So we purchased a few hives and put them in a few different urban gardens around the area, and we’ll be documenting our experiences trying to grow healthy hives.
How concerned should we be about the health of the honeybees worldwide?

White: Because we depend on bees as a critical part of our food chain, we can’t afford not to pay attention to this. From an educational perspective, any food production process that students get to watch from beginning to the end is fascinating and important to understand.

Brophy: We’re hoping to learn more by going to see Queen of the Sun – but it’s pretty well documented that they’re having a hard time. All three farms we put our hives on are organic producers, and pesticides seem to be a part of the problem, so I think we’re helping out.

What’s your take on the project so far?

Bailey: We’re still early in the process, but I’ve already learned a lot. Like a culinary student coming into term one, there’s so much to learn and so many different levels of education. For example, just in terms of “package bees,” how the queen is introduced to a colony, how they’re distributed, how the hives are built and function, and most of all, the life cycle of the hive. I purchased What Makes Bees Buzz, Bee Hive Maintenance and Bee Maintenance just to educate myself.

Wilke: I’d never kept bees before. When you’re actually looking at them and seeing and feeling them in the hive, it’s pretty amazing stuff. They’re bees, not dogs, so they don’t exactly sit if you ask them to. When Dan and I pulled the marshmallow out at Wealth Underground, they weren’t interested in us –they were all about the queen bee.

Chef Brophy and Stacy Givens at her Side Yard organic farm annex, installing the hive

Do you have much experience with bees?

Brophy: I’m a beginner but I’ve had native bees living at my place for three years — I just haven’t known much about what they’re doing. But I put a bee box over the utility box they had made a hive out of and sold my first honey harvest from them last fall.

What’s different about the new hives that OCI acquired?

Brophy: I wasn’t familiar with package bees, but we ordered them through Ruhl Bee Supply and got our three pounds of bees that were shipped from Northern California. All three were installed with only the most minor of inconveniences.

What’s the next step in terms of the OCI hives?

Bailey: Next up is the seven week inspection of all three hives. We’re checking for the health of the hive, that the queen is intact, and that eggs have been laid. We also add another box, another level, to the hive, at that point.

Nolan (left) from Wealth Underground Farm and Woody Bailey (right) installing a hive

Any other reasons why “Plan Bee” is especially interesting or important?

White: Well, the students are going to experience terroir and how what the bees consume affects how the honey tastes. It’s the same with grapes or pigs or whatever, the fact that they get to understand the farming process and witness a farm that is trying to be completely integrative and sustainable as possible by completing as many cycles as possible, especially in an urban setting, on a small scale, is really exciting. The bonus is tasting local honey and seeing the difference between local vs. mass produced clover honey.

Bailey: I’d like to point out how passionate the beekeeping community is about what they are doing. It’s a tight knight community, and there is a lot of information sharing. For example, the sheer variety of honey types is due in part to this community of sharing. For me, the realization of the impact potential of beehive collapse, when you’re talking about 70% of all food produced (source) being contingent upon bee pollination, was an eye-opener. This made me appreciate this beekeeping community even more.

We will continue to post video and other info about Plan Bee on the OCI Facebook page throughout 2011 and for as long as the project continues to have educational value.