Bees taking the sting out of life

·2-min read

A young man serving his first sentence in jail was feeling lost and looking for kindness.

He found it in an unexpected place: bee hives.

Claire Moore, a farmer from Kyneton in regional Victoria, founded Sweet Justice, a charity that runs beekeeping courses in jails to get young men job-ready and reduce reoffending.

She says beekeeping is both structured and meditative, giving inmates the skills they need for life on the outside.

It also gives them a sense of value, like the man who recently passed the course.

"(He said) 'I came because of kindness. I loved hanging out with beekeepers'," Ms Moore told AAP.

"You guys aren't judgmental. You take us for who we are. And you show us extreme kindness and friendship."

She has observed a sense of connection between the insects and inmates, who often have traumatic upbringings.

"People are scared of bees to begin with. They think they're going to get hurt.

"It's the same with people who've been in prison. It is the same stereotype.

"Bees are just trying to do their best to get along in life. And I think that's true of people within the justice system as well."

The charity has expanded to include a commercial operation, which will employ people out of the prison system from next month.

Sweet Justice is one of many beekeeping operations on show at the Australian Bee Congress in Sydney this week, presented along with critical research into the insect's population amid climate change and recent disasters.

AgriFutures honeybee and pollination research manager Annelies McGaw has an enormous affection for the insects, even though she has a potentially dangerous allergy.

Ms McGaw loves that it takes up to four bees to make a watermelon flower, and 45 bees to create a kilogram of macadamia nuts.

"Because I'm allergic to bees, I really hadn't had anything to do with them before.

"But a third of everything we eat has been pollinated by European honeybees.

"If you're at Manly Beach and you're off to have your smashed avocado on toast, a bee has been vitally important - not just the avocado, but the bread too."

Despite staff shortages affecting honey production, and continued vigilance against biosecurity threats such as the Varroa parasite, there were many opportunities emerging in the industry, Ms McGaw said.

COVID-19 prompted a surge in interest from amateur beekeepers, as people became more aware of where food comes from.

"Having a bee is equivalent to having a sheep, you have to understand that there are pests and diseases.

"You have to take care of your bees as you would livestock, treat them like your dog or cat."

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