Here’s an interesting article that actually holds more promise than the article implies. As photovoltaic power became less expensive than coal, the source that began the industrial revolution centuries ago is declining in use.  Regardless of how much money the owners give the politicians, coal plants are still closing.

From a perspective of economic wellbeing, the Appalachian region may finally have a growth industry that’s a lot cleaner and healthier for the workers than coal has ever been.

Even more important: One of the most important aspects on the physical side of sustainability is food.  And bees are essential for pollinating plants that are needed to produce the foods we need.

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Out-Of-Work Appalachian Coal Miners Train As Bee-keepers To Earn Extra Cash


Jodi Helmer

The Salt

January 28, 2019


Just like his grandfather and father before him, James Scyphers spent almost two decades mining coal in West Virginia. He recalls …


“These were the best jobs in

the area; we depended on ’em.”


But mining jobs started disappearing, declining from 132,000 in 1990 to 53,000 in 2018, devastating the area’s economy. In a state that now has the lowest labor-force participation rate in the nation, the long-term decline of coal mining has left West Virginia residents without new options to make a living.

Scyphers was fortunate to find a construction job, but it paid two-thirds less than what he earned underground. He often took odd jobs to make ends meet. One of those odd jobs included building hives and tending bees for the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective.  He says …


“I wish this group had been here

30 years ago. Our region needs it.”


Appalachian Headwaters operates the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective. The nonprofit was formed in 2016 to invest a $7.5 million settlement from a lawsuit against coal mine operator Alpha Natural Resources for violations of the Clean Water Act. The money has been used to fund environmental restoration projects and to develop sustainable economic opportunities in the once-thriving coal-mining communities of West Virginia.

The collective offers beekeeping training to displaced coal miners and low-income residents of mining communities throughout the state, with the goal of helping them find new job opportunities and generate supplemental income. Cindy Bee, a master beekeeper with Appalachian Headwaters, explains …


“It wasn’t just the miners that lost their

livelihoods when mining jobs disappeared;

other industries started to wilt, too, and

entire communities were affected. We’re do-

ing something that can boost the town up.”


To date, the nonprofit, based in the small town of Hinton, has trained 35 beekeepers (with an estimated 50 more signed up for classes that begin in a few weeks) and operates in 17 counties throughout the state. Those who complete the free Introduction to Beekeeping classes receive equipment and bees free or at a reduced cost and have access to ongoing training and mentorship. Partners maintain between two and 20 hives.

James Scyphers, who spent almost two decades mining coal in West Virginia, says miners have a lot to gain from the program.


“Beekeeping is hands-on work, like

mining, and requires on-the-job training.

You need a good work ethic for both.”


Bee says 2018 was the first season with “boots on the ground,” when beekeepers were maintaining their own hives. Beekeepers must wait a full year to collect honey from their hives; the first honey harvest will happen this spring. Appalachian Beekeeping Collective will collect, bottle and sell the honey and pay beekeepers market rate for their harvest.

A strong beehive can produce between 60 and 100 pounds of honey per season, Bee says. At an average retail price of $7.32 per pound in 2018, beekeepers could earn an estimated $732 in supplemental income per hive per season. With multiple hives, that can add up quickly: Twenty hives could mean nearly $15,000 per season. There are also opportunities to produce candles, lip balm and other wax products with additional training offered through the organization.

In a region where jobs are scarce and more than 28 percent of residents live in poverty, opportunities for additional income are welcome. And beekeeping does leave plenty of time for other work.

The supplemental income would be “life changing” for Carie Ortman.

The Alderson, W.Va., resident maintained 18 hives last season with the help of her mentors at the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective. Although disease and winter losses, common among beekeepers, have forced her to start over each spring (she started keeping bees in 2016 as a hobby), Ortman remains optimistic. She says …


“Now that I know about all of the

possibilities for making money

from my hives, I’m all in. I need

this extra income, and I’m

going to be big time with this.”


While the training is open to all West Virginia residents who are at or below the federal poverty rate, Scyphers believes former coal miners have the most to gain. He says …


“The older folks want to get back to work,

but mining is never going to be like it was

in the ’60s and ’70s, and there is nothing

fall back on, no other big industries here,

here, so all of these folks need retraining.


“Beekeeping is hands-on work, like mining,

and requires on-the-job training. You need

a good work ethic for both.”


Scyphers adds …


“Most of the coal miners are hardworking

people. With what Appalachian Beekeeping

Collective is doing, teaching us how to make

a profit from beekeeping, I think we can all

make a good go of it and get back to work.”


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Well, if you don’t live in Appalachia, and if you’re not seeking added income from part-time work by starting and tending bee hives – but – if you do have a genuine interest in sustainable living, then how might beekeeping become an opportunity for you?

First, you can buy honey from your local beekeepers. You’ll most likely have to go to your local farmers’ markets to find them.  Some specialty food stores – in our case, Whole Foods – do feature local honey.  By buying local honey, you support these beekeepers, so they can keep their beehives going.

Second, if you happen to have a garden, plant the plants that bees like. To ensure that your vegetable garden gets pollinated, be sure you have plants with colorful flowers, such as Buddleias, Zinnias, Bee Balm, or almost any fruit tree.  They all attract bees.  Also, ask the expert at your local garden center which plants attract bees the best.

Third, go organic.  Most chemicals used for herbicides or pesticides, such as RoundUp, kill bees.  Again, people at your local garden center can give you alternative herbicides and pesticides that do not harm bees.

Fourth, if you have the time – maybe five or six hours a week – and if you have some space – hives are roughly 30” by 30”, with multiples stacked vertically – you might start and manage your own hive.  Most states have agriculture extension services that have classes on beekeeping and will help you get started.  In addition, there are many beekeeping clubs that also have classes and can get you started.

Is it fun?

Actually it is work. But, like many hobbies, over time you develop skill.  And learning is fun.  It’s fun watching the bees “do their thing.”  You’ll also enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Raw honey, which has wonderful flavor, taken from your hive and strained, to remove impurities, may strengthen your immune system to help reduce allergies.  The more local the honey, the better for reducing local allergies – such as allergies from airborne pollen from local trees and plants.

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Reminder …

If you haven’t already done so, revisit our web site,, and enjoy our newest video, “A Unique Development Opportunity.”  It’s a brief picture of what an additional sustainable living development will be like – along with comments from current and prospective Garden Atrium residents.  I think you’ll enjoy it.


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