For beekeeper Rebecca Mancini, creating thriving pollinator populations goes hand in hand with carving out representation for women of color in a male-dominated field. Mancini is the founder of the apiary B. Royal Honey, a pandemic hobby that turned into a company she launched with her business partner Kou Tukala Nyan. “As we began to research farming grants, we realized that nationally, a very low percentage of farmers are women,” she says. There are even fewer farmers who are people of color.
With two properties, B. Royal Honey maintains six beehives on its Coventry grounds, each of which is capable of producing between 40 and 80 pounds of honey per year. The bees share land with a pollinator and erosion-prevention garden that houses more than 200 native plants. On its Providence property, the company has three hives and 15 native plants. “I made a commitment to raise bees as naturally as possible,” says Mancini. “I want my honey to be as organic as possible, so I give them a variety of plants so they don’t have the need to travel and potentially get into pesticides.”
The company’s native plants were purchased in partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), an organization that provides reimbursable grants to farmers who have at least one beehive, federally protected livestock, and the potential to impact local food systems. These grants support soil health and small farms, and Mancini is working with the NRCS to build a greenhouse, a well, and a drip irrigation system on her Coventry property.
Mancini draws parallels between the homogenous makeup of farmers and beekeepers in America and the way farm workers generally approach beekeeping. “We tried to turn it into a monolith, but it never really was,” she says. “Integrating different backgrounds and cultures into beekeeping helps with the diversification that’s so important to preventing honeybee colony collapse.”
Nyan agrees and adds that representation is important. “People of color in America may not have access to beekeeping or know the benefits of using beekeeping to connect with nature. I think we should work together to teach people about the environment and ways we talk about it.”
Environmental education is a very important aspect of B. Royal Honey’s mission. Mancini and Nyan were recently invited to share their knowledge about beekeeping at a local library, have hosted free lunch-and-learn sessions in partnership with Project Overflo, and they have huge dreams for the future. “I’d love to have an educational center for beekeeping,” says Mancini, describing her vision of an incubator for aspiring beekeepers where they could receive education and support in developing a healthy colony.
But for now, Mancini and Nyan are content to talk with curious customers at the farmers market where they sell their honey. “The education we offer is not just about the bees,” says Nyan. “It’s also about the honey.” The two women regularly teach their customers about the health benefits of local honey and guide them to flavors that would best suit them. “Honey made from spring flowers is much lighter in taste than the bolder fall honey,” Mancini explains.
The different flowers and herbs the bees have access to also contribute to the flavor of the honey. “Last fall, I had 40 blueberry plants and the honey tasted like berries,” Mancini says. “It was phenomenal.”
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