Learning About Bees and Beekeeping – Three U. S. Regional Associations

Reader Contribution by Kim Flottum
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There are three regional beekeeping associations in the U.S. All three were founded by beekeepers to provide educational opportunities for their members and connect members and Professional and industry leaders in a mutually engaging setting. They are aimed primarily at beginning, hobby and sideline beekeepers, but all three certainly enjoy the many commercial beekeepers that attend too. Unlike the commercial groups, none of the three support political action or get involved with petitioning government agencies at any level. All are self funded by a very low dues structure, funds from internal activities like auctions and raffles, plus donations from members.

Eastern Apicultural Society of North America 

The oldest of these, The Eastern Apicultural Society of North America was founded in 1955 when a forward thinking beekeeper from Rhode Island gathered together beekeepers from three states…Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts for a three day meeting at the University in Providence. Attendees were invited to stay at the University’s dorms, eat in the cafeteria, dance in the student center, attend lectures in the classrooms, and work bees in a temporary apiary set up just outside the dorms. All this for less than $20.00. It was a phenomenal success as hundreds of beekeepers…not only from the three states invited, but from several surrounding states attended.

An ad hoc committee meeting was held and the decision was made to do this again the following year, this time at the University of Maryland, to be headed by scientists from the USDA Honey Bee Lab in nearby Beltsville. This meeting, too, was a success, and when over, members from all states attending voted to form an Eastern States group. The following year, back in Rhode Island, a larger and more permanent group, the Eastern Apicultural Society was formed. This group, formed then still thrives today, and for short is called EAS.

Today, every state and Canadian province east of the Mississippi river is entitled to have a representative sit on the governing board of EAS. The annual conference, almost always held in August, is hosted by a member state beekeeping organization…for instance, this year the Vermont State Beekeepers are hosting the conference at the University in Burlington in August. Sometimes a large local group from within a state, or a major beekeeping business will play host, too.

Conferences are a week long, usually held at a University, but meetings at conference centers or large hotels are not uncommon, especially now that Universities are catching on to the fact that they can charge almost as much as a hotel for a student dorm room. Conferences are generally held in states or provinces from Ohio east, and Georgia north because travel to areas further west or south excludes a big portion of the membership, based primarily in the mid east and north east regions.

Each year’s conference features Lectures, workshops, and apiary sessions with 40 – 50 different speakers during the week. This offers more educational opportunities than one beekeeper can imagine, plus, there’s a Master Beekeeper program and many social events that highlight the week’s sessions, with, on average 500 – 600 people attending. Somewhere between 40 and 50 beekeeping and related businesses attend as vendors each year, and this alone often makes attending a meeting worth the price. If large purchases are intended for the coming season, the postage saved from a distant supplier can pay for the cost of registration, and if you know ahead of time, everything you need can be ready to pick up. It is a very convenient arrangement. EAS hosts a competitive honey show most years, with members bringing prize jars of honey, beeswax items, crafts and photos.

EAS gives a grant to a honey bee researcher every year, offers several prestigious awards to researchers, extension and regulatory people, has a student award to assist in educational opportunities, and has a one-of-a-kind citizen award for promoting beekeeping education to non-beekeepers. EAS has enough funding to support part-time paid positions for their Secretary and Treasurer, newsletter Editor and Master Beekeeper advisor. They also cover the travel and housing costs of their speakers who attend the meetings. Board members and the Executive committee are volunteer positions.

Western Apicultural Society

Not long after EAS was formed, an EAS student award winner graduated from Cornell and moved to Davis, California. There wasn’t anything resembling EAS out west, so he petitioned his former group to help start a similar organization on the west coast, and the Western Apicultural Society was born. Because of the vastness of the all the western states the density of beekeepers is much lower, though, interestingly, the density of bees is much higher. As a result, WAS is a similar, though smaller organization, with a three day meeting sponsored by a member state… states east of the Rockies. One nice thing about the west coast is that both Hawaii and Alaska count, and the venues of these meetings sometimes approaches the exotic.

Smaller means smaller budget, but the annual meetings, with usually about 200 or so attendees, are packed with speakers, social events…especially social events…and lots of opportunities to mix and meet with the speakers. Conferences are held at universities and attendees stay in dorms or local hotels, but sometimes they are held in conference centers. Speakers are nationally recognized University and USDA scientists, authors, and researchers, plus successful beekeepers with a west coast flavor. Like EAS, Canadian provinces are included in WAS, and they offer much in the way of honey bee science and colony management.

WAS doesn’t support a research funding program, Master Beekeepers or awards programs, but each year they present an Outstanding Service To Beekeeping award to one of their own who has been a shining light for some time, and they also give the Thurber Award for Inventivness, named after a long time, very clever  member. They don’t have funding for supporting administration positions and rarely support speakers at their meetings.

Heartland Apicultural Society 

Ten years ago a group of beekeepers in the Midwest sought to duplicate the EAS and WAS model and again with help from EAS (start up funds, organizational assistance and the like) formed a more central group…the Heartland Apiculture Society. Though the borders of EAS and HAS overlap, HAS’ annual July conference stays mostly in the western half of the EAS area. It’s a long drive to most EAS meetings from this area and attendance by beekeepers from states like Wisconsin, Indiana, Kentucky and the like is difficult.

EAS and WAS are far more alike than different because they began with similar startup goals. HAS, by far the youngest of the three has a somewhat different philosophy, and offers a distinctly different tone for their 300 or so attendees each year. Their organization is much less structured with few Director’s meetings, no awards programs, few social happenings during their three day meeting…and, as a result, there’s a very low registration fee.

Their meetings, however, are similar with workshops, beeyard experiences and, though fewer, University and USDA scientists. Successful beekeepers play a bigger role in this group than the others because the emphasis is on practical beekeeping more so than on hard core science, but there is plenty of that also. Vendors are a big part of this meeting also, and a trip to this meeting can be beneficial to any beekeepers looking to save some money.

All three groups have web pages for information. Both EAS and WAS have quarterly newsletters that cover recent board meetings, information on members, reports from various committees and other news that members can use. They also prepare their members for the upcoming meeting listing speakers, topics, special events and the like to help members plan their summer trip. HAS does not have a newsletter, nor do they support their administrators and rarely cover costs for speakers.

These three regional groups cover most of the US, and if you are interested in attending a meeting, or finding out more visit their web pages. All three have their summer conference locations and dates already planned, and you can find out speakers, topics and more.

All three of these groups provide an outstanding, and in my opinion some of the best learning opportunities any beekeeper can find. If you can, visit one of them this year, you will not be disappointed.

Kim Flottum is the Editor of Bee Culture magazine, and a Past Chairman of the Board for EAS.