Educating Kids About the Importance of Bees

Ted Dennard mentors young beekeepers and gets them hands-on with hives.

Ted Dennard at a beekeeping workshop.

Bee Cause Project

The beekeeping bug hit Ted Dennard when he was just a teenager. An older beekeeper showed him the intricacies and importance of the profession and the young Dennard was smitten.

About four decades later, Dennard is still tending hives. He is the founder and head beekeeper of the Georgia-based Savannah Bee Company which sells honey-based beauty and personal care products. Part of Dennard’s mission is to educate about the importance of bees.

Created by Dennard and fellow beekeeper Tami Enright, the Bee Cause Project mentors young beekeepers, introducing children to bees and offering hands-on opportunities with pollinators. Since its inception in 2014, the nonprofit has installed hives in 800 schools in 50 states and four countries. The goal is to have at least 1,000 hives

Dennard spoke to Treehugger about his passion for bees, the importance of education, and how he helped reintroduce honeybees to an island in the Bahamas.

Treehugger: How did you first get involved with bees, way back in high school? Why are you so fascinated by them?

Ted Dennard: My first interaction with bees was when I met [beekeeper] Roy Hightower. He needed a place to put his hive, and my family volunteered our land. I spent any free time I had soaking up his knowledge. The first time I opened the hive, pulled out the frame, and saw the way the different colors of honey shone in the sunlight like stained glass, I knew I was hooked on the honey. My interest in honey and bees only grew when I joined the Peace Corps after college and taught beekeeping in Jamaica. It’s been the common thread through my whole life. 

Many people don’t realize how important bees are to our world. One in three bites of food we take is dependent on bee pollination. They were the master gardeners of the earth for millions of years before we were here, and we need to be good stewards of the world they helped build.

What is the story of your business, Savannah Bee Company? What do you consider when creating products?

Savannah Bee Company began when I started selling honey out of my trunk in 1999. I was completely lost and had no plan for the future. Eventually, a few gift shops started selling our products. By 2002, we started going to trade shows and opened our wholesale business. We opened our first retail store in 2008. From there, we’ve built 13 retail stores, a network of wholesale customers, and a bustling e-commerce platform. 

When we create new products, as a business we of course consider the margin, sales, and volume the product will bring. After all, the more revenue we have, the more we can give back. However, as a mission-driven company, the most important consideration is whether or not the product will contribute positively to our brand and purpose. It’s a delicate balance because not every product idea checks every box. 

What is the mission of the Bee Cause Project? Is your goal to encourage future beekeepers or to educate about the plight of bees?

You pretty much nailed it. Our mission is to raise a generation that will understand, love, and protect the honeybee. You’d be amazed to see how much knowledge these kids have about bees, even as young as kindergarten.

Ted Dennard with honycomb
Dennard with honeycomb.

Bee Cause Project

How important is education and collaboration, particularly with young people?

Education is the root of what we do with all of our mission projects as well as our retail stores. Educating young people and adults alike is the only way to make lasting change. With our Bee Cause Project, we had school and local officials who were very skeptical. We took the time to take them in the hives, teach them about bees, and show them the importance of the project. Now, they are some of our biggest supporters. 

Have you kept track of how many students, schools, or other beekeepers the project has worked with? Do you have any idea how many bees (or hives) your work has helped?

When we started the Bee Cause project, our goal was to have hives in 1,000 schools. It seemed crazy at the time, but our amazing Director Tami Enright has run with it. Today, we are at over 800 schools. Aside from the Bee Cause Project, Savannah Bee Company helps to save the bees by supporting beekeepers and providing education to the public in our stores. Our Showroom on Wilmington Island (Georgia) gives educational tours of our bee gardens nearly daily. Our other store employees are educated on bees and all of our products, and they are willing and ready to answer any questions a customer may have. 

It's hard to quantify how many bees or hives we've supported. I can tell you that we sell 4,000 pounds of honey every day of the year, which equates to 80 billion flower visits. We support hundreds of beekeepers, and I estimate hundreds of thousands of hives. 

Do you have any favorite stories of kids becoming inspired and impassioned after working with your team? What is it like when you help install hives at schools?

Installing the hives is my favorite part of what I do. Probably my favorite story is one of our Showroom employees, Sarah Beth. She was a Bee Cause kid who had a hive in her classroom. She was inspired to take up beekeeping herself, and now she works for us giving bee tours to educate our community.  

beekeeper in the Bahamas
New beekeeper in the Bahamas.

Bee Cause Project

How did you bring bees back to the Bahamas?

We heard that the island of Exuma in the Bahamas had no bees—crazy right? After monitoring for a year, we confirmed that suspicion and decided to help.  We took around 11 hives with us on a plane (12 queens and 36 pounds of bees, to be exact) and educated residents about beekeeping best practices. Since then, we continue to support those beekeepers with equipment donations. They now have hundreds of hives, and it has helped to provide a stable source of income for them as well. 

What’s next on your apiary agenda?

We are always looking for new ways to help save the bees. We recently started a sustainability committee, which is always looking for new ways to decrease our footprint. A happy planet makes happy bees.