GROVE CITY – A spot on the Grove City College campus will be buzzing and blooming next year.
Biology professor Dr. Tracy Farone is starting a pollinator garden, which will be behind the student parking lot off Madison Avenue.
“What’s amazing is the response,” she said, noting she got 30 applications from students interested in the five open spots for her research group.
Farone teaches classes including anatomy, physiology, and public health and infectious disease. The public health course includes information about “one-health” topics – things that impact animals, humans and the environment.
“One small thing is so interconnected with everything else,” she said.
That includes bees and the challenges they face, like needing pesticide-free spaces to pollinate. Honey bees and other pollinators are necessary for one third of the nation’s food production, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Bees give us food,” Farone said.
In 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandated that veterinarians get more involved with bee health.
Farone’s doctorate degree is in veterinary medicine. She practiced for about 12 years and still has her license.
She was intrigued by the FDA mandate, considering that many veterinarians have no experience with bee health.
“Bees get sick just like any other animal,” she said.
In the United States, beekeepers had been treating their bees however they wanted. Now, the FDA says that beekeepers need to consult with a vet if there is a health concern, Farone said.
That means that antibiotics for bees are off the table. The medication was being overused or misused, creating the potential for antibiotic resistance – that could impact disease control, she said.
She’s spent several years researching bees and their health, and traveled to different parts of the United States and Europe on sabbatical, studying agriculture as a veterinarian.
Farone has met with beekeepers who have just a few hives, and beekeepers with thousands of hives. Europe considers bees to be an agricultural animal, and it was interesting to see how the industry is regulated elsewhere, she said.
“Bee biology is absolutely fascinating,” she said.
She’s still learning a lot, and will learn even more with a pollinator garden at the college. Construction will start very soon, and she has been researching the kinds of plants, flowers and trees that will be planted.
Some plants have been donated along with a generous contribution from John Oliver, whom Farone met through some beekeepers.
He has bee hives at his home in Sewickley, and the pollinator garden will be named “The Oliver Apiary.”
Farone plans to add bee hives to the garden next year, and said that all of the support so far has put her ahead of schedule.
Students and faculty from numerous fields of study will help maintain the garden and bees. She expects some entrepreneurship students to help market and sell honey; proceeds will benefit the apiary.
She hopes to open up the garden to the public on certain days, perhaps offering educational presentations.
Farone is also starting a volunteer group to help with the garden, which already contains a lot of trees – those are just as important for pollen and nectar as flowers.
In the meantime, she’ll be keeping an eye on her own bee hive at her Darlington home, and she’s speaking this weekend about bees at the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association’s annual conference.
“I want to educate vets on bee medicine,” she said.