MAC Sustainability newsletter for October

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The latest buzz at MSP International -- bee keeping for Vets


One year after its grand opening, a bee apiary located on the west side of the airfield at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is thriving, and its organizers say their hopes of benefitting veterans are being realized.

With the support of the Metropolitan Airports Commission and the Bee Squad program at the University of Minnesota, the cluster of hives has been welcomed by U.S. military veterans.

Bee Veterans program participants can either attend one basic training session for beekeeping or attend advanced training workshops for a more comprehensive approach. All told, 12 veterans have gone through the program in its first year and more are interested.

Pictured: Chris Dahm, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, assesses the health of a hive.

“We have four who come back every two weeks,” said Dr. Becky Masterman, the assistant program director for the Bee Squad program at the University of Minnesota. “It’s nice that they started with the program. I expected people would drop in and out. They’ve been consistent.”

Mike Roche, a U.S. military veteran and experienced beekeeper from Watertown, Minn., has been key to moving the project forward. His belief in the therapeutic benefits of beekeeping for veterans, particularly those who are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, was the inspiration for the airport’s apiary. Roche has provided scholarships to support veterans who want to participate in the Bee Veterans program.

Beekeeping for Veterans 101

One of those scholarship recipients is Chris Dahm, who bee keeps at the apiary and is enrolled in a course on beekeeping in northern climates. “He took to it so quickly and is so very good at it that we set up a regular schedule,” Masterman said.

Dahm, 28, is in his first year of beekeeping. After seven years in the U.S. Marine Corps and multiple deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, he returned to school and is now an animal science major at the University of Minnesota.

He’s focused on meat production in the animal science program and plans to develop a community-supported agriculture business on family land near Moose Lake, Minn.

He plans to get the operation certified as organic, supplying beef, pork and poultry to customers who buy a share in the business and get food in return.

“We’d try to do honey too,” Dahm said, adding that he’d like to have 50-60 bee colonies. The bee-related work done at the University of Minnesota is part of the Department of Entomology. Dahm’s beekeeping isn’t for course credit, but it allows him to get the experience he needs working with bees.


Click here for a 360-degree view of beekeeping at the MSP apiary.


As Dahm was prying apart boards full of bees to lift them out of the hive for inspection, a bee stung him.  Dahm nonchalantly used the edge of a mini crow bar – which he was using to pry the boards apart -- to scrape the stinger off his arm.

The beekeepers have smoke machines that they “puff” on the hives to prompt the bees to move toward the hive’s interior while the keepers inspect the hives. Roche said the bees’ reaction to smoke is thought to be an evolutionary adaptation, as bees move closer to a hive’s core within trees during forest fires. 

The MAC’s role

MAC Commissioner Michael Madigan was one of the Bee Veteran program’s earliest advocates, and points to the many MAC departments that had a role in getting the idea off the ground, including a key role played by the Sustainability and Strategy Department in partnership with the Airport Foundation MSP.

“I hope we can expand (beekeeping) to our reliever airports,” he said, noting that there’s also land available at those sites.

The Airport Foundation purchased the fence to enclose the site, said Jana Webster, the Foundation’s executive director, and the MAC Field Maintenance team installed it, while MAC plumbers provided water to the apiary.

The Foundation also bought a storage shed from Merrick Community Services, which has been serving St. Paul’s East Side since 1908. Among its services, Merrick provides construction training classes to East Side residents, and Merrick students built the shed at MSP’s apiary that now holds beekeeping equipment.

The boxes of bee hives feature artistic painting done by students from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, personnel from the Hyatt Place in Bloomington and members of the Bee Squad.


Reaching out

Over the last year, the Bee Squad has used social media and its website to reach out to veterans, and the group’s newsletter has 2,800 subscribers.

 “We have a two-year plan, and we wanted to find out in our pilot year what works and what doesn’t,” Masterman said.

Pictured: Mike Roche visits the MSP apiary.

She stressed that there’s no requirement that participating veterans be associated with the University of Minnesota.

The University of Minnesota’s Bee Squad assists area beekeepers to promote healthy bee populations.

The Bee Squad has colonies in 100 different locations, including rooftops of buildings at four different golf courses and at sites provided by corporations including 3M, Aveda and Boston Scientific.

The 12 veteran participants in the first year of MSP’s apiary have had unique situations. One was a veteran who had lost three limbs, Masterman said, and the staff worked on accommodations to help that participant tend the hives.
Masterman expects the apiary will look different over time.

“We’re exploring ways to get to the bees if you’re disabled,” including making modifications to the structure of the hives.

The Bee Veterans program at the apiary is also a part of the MAC’s ongoing efforts to promote sustainability, including partnering with community groups to develop programs with broader benefits.


Ana Heck of the Bee Squad starts the process of checking for varroa mites.


Beyond the beekeeping opportunity for veterans, the growth in the Bee Squad’s locations means more well-managed apiaries that promote bee health. Much has been written about the decline of honey bees, which have been dying at unprecedented rates since 2006, Masterman said.

While the decline is not tied to one single issue, the presence of varroa mites is a significant threat, she said.

Varroa mites are an external parasite that came into the U.S. almost 30 years ago from Asia. They’re now found regularly in beehives, where they leave open wounds on the bees and spread disease and viruses that can decimate a bee colony.

Monitoring the colonies’ health is a key task at MSP. On a recent Monday morning, Ana Heck, a beekeeper and community engagement coordinator with the Bee Squad, was working with Dahm to check the hives for varroa mites.

Dahm and Heck found mites in the hives, though not in large numbers. The Bee Squad uses organic treatments to get rid of the mites.

“It hurts the mites a lot more than it hurts the bees,” Masterman said.

While pesticides are also a worry for bee health, they’re not the primary concern, she said. “If you manage the (varroa) mites, then the bees can withstand other challenges.”

Queen bees can lay up to 2,000 eggs per day and fertilize them. That production is needed, as the lifespan of a worker bee in the summer months is typically four to six weeks.

As for the honey produced by the airport bees, harvesting has started. The honey goes back to the Bee Veterans program, and some is shared with participants.
There’s also a goal of selling the honey to raise money to support the program.

The Minnesota Honey Co., located on 50th and Xerxes in South Minneapolis, occasionally sells Bee Squad honey, Masterman said, and the Bee Squad is also looking at opportunities to sell it at retail locations inside MSP International.

MSP receives carbon accreditation from Airports Council International

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) recently marked an important step in its move toward more sustainable operations, as a leading aviation industry association accredited the airport’s mapping of its carbon emissions.

Airports Council International (ACI), the only global association of airport operators, approved MSP’s Level 1 certification in the Airport Carbon Accreditation program earlier this fall. The Level 1 work involved a comprehensive study of MSP’s carbon emissions from various sources under the control of the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC).

MSP is now one of 20 airports in North America that have attained carbon accreditation since 2014, and one of 50 airports worldwide.

“The accreditation from ACI is another sign of MSP’s ongoing commitment to sustainable practices across all aspects of our operations,” said Brian Ryks, executive director and CEO of the MAC. “We’re proud to be a part of ACI’s program, and we’re already preparing for the next steps.”

Receiving a certificate from Airports Council International in Montreal recently for MSP's Level 1 carbon accreditation were: (left to right) Chad Leqve, MAC director of environmental programs; Roy Fuhrmann, vice president of management and operations; Brian Ryks, executive director and CEO, and Dan Boivin, MAC board chairman.

The MAC received the certification in Montreal Tuesday at the 2016 ACI-North America/World Annual Conference.

The full Airport Carbon Accreditation program is a four-step process, where the mapping of carbon emissions is followed by reduction in the carbon footprint, work with third parties on further reductions, and eventually carbon neutrality for direct emissions.

MAC staff quantified carbon emissions at the airport in base year 2014, measuring emissions from a wide variety of sources.

Natural gas, gas and diesel fuel consumption, and other air emission sources were included in the inventory. The study covered MAC fleet operations used in daily operations, electrical consumption, the heating and cooling of MAC-owned property and similar activities.

A rigorous third-party verification process, involving extensive documentation of the carbon mapping work done by the MAC staff, was also completed.

The airport carbon accreditation process is focused on MAC-owned facilities and does not cover emissions from aircraft. Subsequent levels of certification will cover tenant activities, including emissions from aircraft ground movements.

The ACI Airport Carbon Accreditation program is an industry-leading tool for sustainable airport practices and is an important benchmark for airports working to reduce their carbon footprint.

ACI represents more than 1,850 airports in 173 countries.