The Kitchener Public Library installed two beehives at their main branch in June on the second floor of their green roof. It’s part of the library’s 85 Green, a series of initiatives and projects that promote nutritional literacy and help us learn and grow together toward a more sustainable community.

Lindsey Skeen, the manager of children and teen services at KPL has been instrumental in getting this program off the ground.

“She has a lot of great ideas. She’s fantastic. Lindsey is relatively new to the library and she’s a real star,” KPL CEO Mary Chevreau said.

You can easily watch the busy bees at work from the floor-to-ceiling windows on the second floor of the library’s main branch.

Skeen wanted to create a healthy pollinator environment and educate the public on why pollinators are so important to our food supply. The hives are part of youth programming underway at the library’s new vegetable and herb garden in the Sheriff John Motz courtyard.

To make sure the bees are doing well, a professional beekeeper helped establish the hives and comes in regularly to monitor their progress and keep them healthy.

When asked about the whole process of installing the bees and how that went, Chevreau said: “we did wonder, would [the public] be concerned with the bees? Would they be afraid? What happens if they have somebody who’s allergic to bees?”

But, they’ve had nothing but “absolutely positive feedback,” Chevreau said.

Chevreau explained that honey bees are quite docile and almost never sting unless their hive is attacked or they feel threatened. The library also made sure the hives were high up from the ground and in an area only accessible to the beekeeper.

As part of the 85 Green initiatives, the library provides afterschool programs for youth in our community. They were surprised to realize how many of the participants were not getting enough food each day.

“We have children who come from families that for whatever reason, can’t provide. We see a lot of kids that come in after school and these are young kids — elementary school-age kids, they don’t leave till we close at 9 p.m.,” Chevreau said.

To remedy this issue, the library decided to do a small informal study where they provided kids with an afternoon snack. They conducted a stress test before and after the snack and measured the mood of each child.

“We saw such a difference in behaviour and their ability to learn. There’s a lot of research that shows that people who are fed better, their attention is better, [they] are generally happier,” Chevreau said.

The library also has plans in the works to create a learning kitchen.

Right now, they have three gardens created as a result of funding from an individual family who made the 85 Green initiative possible. The largest plot grows vegetables in an array of colourful food plants they call the rainbow garden.

They have help from The Ontario Seed Company, a local company that comes in once a week to maintain the gardens and make sure everything is healthy.

“Our vision would be that kids could understand where food comes from, garden to table. They would have an opportunity to prepare their own healthy snacks and understand what a healthy snack looks like,” Chevreau said.

On a larger scale, Kitchener and Waterloo have become the seventh and eighth cities to join Bee City Canada — whose mission is to work with cities to undertake bee-friendly initiatives and support native pollinators through community-based stewardship activities and environmental education.

Bee City Canada says the best way to support pollinators is to plant a variety of wildflowers native to this area: pink milkweeds favoured by monarch butterflies, blue spikes of hyssop, bright yellow golden alexander and white penstemon.

While having hives like the ones at KPL might not be feasible for your residential property, planting native wildflowers or volunteering with KW’s Pollinator Working Group is an accessible way to contribute.

To learn more about bees in our Region, check out the Pollinator Festival happening at Huron Natural Area in Kitchener on Saturday, Aug. 17. The event is being hosted by Bee City.