Bring back the BEE Badge!


by ellen shaughnessy

vintage basket Skep

Girl scout troop leader Kathleen McHenry is a woman on a mission. When she recently perused a vintage 1947 Girl Scout guide, she realized that there had once been a bee badge; scouts needed to actually manage a skep
(vintage beehive, and the famous hairdoo namesake) and install a new bee colony and raise bees, among other fairly involved bee challenges in order to earn their bee badge.
In 1963 the bee badge faded away from the manual and was no longer an ordained girl scout achievement.
After learning about the very real current issues that our world now faces with colony collapse disorder coupled with the lost bee badge, troop leader Ms McHenry got a bee in her bonnet and felt compelled to bring the Bee Badge back.

Given the huge role that honeybees play in our food pollination and the very real danger of this ending, she recognized the opportunity for badge resurrection. According to a report by Dan Rather the US has recently experienced the highest percentage of bee loss ever. 80% of almonds in the world come from farms in California. This season many of the 6,000 farmers cannot find any professional bee keepers to pollinate their crops, due to colony collapse disorder and the number of bee hives it destroyed. Debates abound on whether it’s pesticides such as Nicotinoids that are the cause. Armed with the girl scout promise to “make the world a better place” Ms McHenry and her troop of Tenacious 10-year-olds are making a beeline towards bringing that Bee Badge back.

Plumbing drama turns into something sweet!
As luck would have it, Ms. McHenry bumped into local plumber/handyman Chris Menezes when he was on a job in her neighborhood. She soon learned that he also happens to be a master beekeeper and swarm-catcher: ting! the light-bulb lit. Not one to sit around, the queen bee of Troop 90830 scouts quickly arranged a visit to our side-yard on May 17 for her scouts to check out a recently-captured swarm by Chris, now buzzing in our hives. We happened to be home when one of our two hives swarmed and Chris fortunately had time to pop over and capture them.

Chris Menezes scoops up the swarm with his bare hands! Kids, don’t try this at home.

Our hives jumped 100% from two to four this spring; not only that, but with this swarm a 3rd colony was delivered to our friend in so. whitehall that lost a colony this winter: BEE Strong! Could it be that our local farmers are NOT using nicotinoids in the 3-mile radius?

Ms. McHenry, what made you so BEE-witched?

Ms. McHenry’s 1947 GS guide

“When the Girls started their Junior Level, they worked on a new Journey called Get Moving. It was all about Energy Conservation and how to love their planet. We went off the grid of the book with our own inspiration and it was very interesting how much the girls were interested in where their food came from and how things were made. At meetings the girls have tea with honey and we talked about where honey comes from. When I mentioned the chance to see where honey came from, they were all on board!

Last year was the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouting, so we would have fun looking up all the old badges girls their age used to earn and they were really into the animal badges. We talked about how years ago girls needed to know how to raise hens for eggs, bees for honey, gardens for food and sheep for clothing. We talked about how the love your planet journey tied into these old badges by saving energy, the environment, and sustainable living. When they visited your bees the, it was the final decision in reinventing the bee badge of 1947. They thought other girls would like to learn these things too.”

Local Swarm-catcher Chris Menezes + Troop 90830: BEE Brave!
As the troop of tens approached bee hives for the first time, a few concerns were voiced about getting stung. Chris assured all that these are “quite nice bees;” originating from Italian honeybees. Western honeybees have been kept by beekeepers for centuries, and well before that, you can still see Egyptian ancient civilizations’ beekeeping evidenced in remaining tomb and temple drawings.

we use an image from Karnak Temple in Luxor, Egypt on our labels. The bee signifies that a royal cartouche is about to follow

As nice as these college hill/ easton-swarm originated bees are, ground rules were set for the scouts: no screaming or swatting. Chris described the difference between the European ‘more domesticated’ honeybees as opposed to the more aggressive Africanized bees that he grew up with, in his native country Guyana. There he had many exotic pets – parrots, reptiles, you name it… but what interested him most when Chris was the scouts’ age, were the honeybees and their sophisticated society. Guyana was facing issues with aggressive bees.

Africanized honey bees are the result of honey bees brought from Africa to Brazil in the 1950s. Some had hopes of breeding a bee better adapted to the South American tropical climate but instead they bred more aggressive bees. These African honey bees reached the Brazilian wild in 1957 and then spread south and north until they officially reached the United States on October 19, 1990. They have since interbred with European honey bees, and because hybrid bees tend to exhibit many African honey bee traits while still retaining some European honey bee genes, the hybrid bees are referred to as Africanized honey bees. So we now have what some people refer to as ‘killer bees’ which doesn’t necessarily mean that they are killers, but just much more difficult to manage than the European ‘western’ honey bees.

and now, S’more on Troop 90830’s Easton bee visit
The scouts put on bee veils as Chris fired up a hive-smoker… as it started smoking there were immediate murmurings of marshmallows and s’mores. The scouts were careful to stay out of the flight paths of the beehive entrances. Initially the scouts stood far away and there were a few ‘eeeews’ overheard, when the hive was opened and soooo many bees were crawling around on the hive box frame that Chris pulled. When he pointed out a freshly-hatched tiny bee that had just emerged from her cell eeewwwws quickly turned to ‘awwwwwwws’ – the girls all huddled in to get a good close look at the cute freshly hatched little worker bee.

The queen made her appearance, and the scouts got super-close to see her and how distinguished her longer body is. It took about 10 minutes to go from some ewwws to a comfort-level of every scout wanting to take a turn holding the frame loaded with bees (and honey!). see it in action here.

Ms McHenry: now that you and your troop have your goal to bring back the BEE Badge, what are the next steps?
The girls will have to organize information they find interesting into five categories. In each category there will be a team of two girls who need to design three activities for girls to choose one that is interesting. They will have to come up with facts and trivia that is interesting to girls their age and draw or collect pictures. Once they get all the information they will duplicate the template of all modern skill  badges and submit their project to Girl Scout Council as their bronze award. Each Girl will need to invest 15 hours of time and make a unique contribution to the group. They are designing a bee badge which they will also submit as a “Make your Own” Official Skill Badge. They can then invite others to an event to earn the badge and from there it will become sustainable when others share the fun of beekeeping through this badge.

We will be discussing how to have a bee box donated or have a neighbor help the girls build one. They are going to compose a letter to Chris to help them find a swarm of their own. The ideas on painting the box and planting flowers is keeping them buzzing 🙂  They want their own honey and want to make their own label.  You and Chris truly inspired them! My job will be keeping them focused and organized.

If they can, they will find a related way to carry this into the Cadette level of Girl Scouting with a project for their Silver Award.  I am hoping with all they are learning they will see a way they can make a difference in their community.  Some of them already are talking about building a bee garden but I told them one step at a time.  Let’s learn what they need to survive, first. The concept is to have others discover the fascination of beekeeping and how it helps their planet with food crops, pesticide regulation etc.  Then others become interested and you have a movement among future leaders looking to make a difference locally or globally.

What issues does troop 90830 face, in this BEE Badge quest?
Simply keeping the girls focused, at this age is important. This will be the first time they will have to work together to accomplish something they find fun and interesting.  It will be a lot of work and I will need to take them to more hands-on bee events like what we did in your wonderful back yard.  I talked to some of them today and how the honey comes out of the hive is their new fascination. Two of the girls have started the category on different sources of honey and its nutrition. Another group has started a category on the flight patterns and character of bees. I will have 4-2 girl group categories and the whole troop of 8 will work on the last category together.

swarm ‘dump’ into new hive… once the queen is in & waggling her fermones they march in and follow

[hmmmm… perhaps a small honey-extraction fest is in order]

What other cool things has troop 90830 done?
They toured a dairy farm to see how cows produce milk, how chickens lay eggs, how chocolate is produced and made into candy, they found ordinary things and recycled them into new things – Rolling paper beads from recycled magazines and making pretty bracelets; taking boxes from the pantry and covering them with comics and putting ribbon as a handle to make gift bags; collecting capris sun drink packets and turning them into coin purses….

They held a Jewelry Workshop for girls and adults, to demonstrate and create paper bead bracelets and origami crane earrings out of recycled materials. They got children and the community to help them make 1,000 paper cranes to send to a children’s cancer hospital in Basra, Iraq. We are working on stringing them and hope to send them soon. These cranes are to support the cause David Heard began when he had cancer.  David’s cousin Adeline is in our troop. We started the peace crane project before Adeline joined and while we were making cranes she told us David was her cousin. Serious Goosebumps!  We began a project to help David’s mother Susan get others to make cranes for all the hospitals David was not able to do. The project was going to be our Bronze award but it got larger than our level, and we decided to send our cranes to Iraq and talk with Mrs. Heard for a Silver award later.

We picked Iraq because our troop is very active with Shoebox NJ where we host a service unit packing event each year on Armed Forces Day.  This way they honor our veterans and David’s memory. With 10 year old girls… things are a process and we try to lead by example and they follow through the steps.

Girl Scouting today has given girls three journey choices (the path they take) to choose from and within each of these journey’s they will learn a formula:
1.  Discover (what is of interest to you, what are your talents and how can you use what you discover about your self to make a difference)
2. Connect (basically network with others to find ways to make others interested in your ideas and work as a team for a common interest)
3.  Take Action ( make those discoveries into something that makes your world a better place with the help of your community, school, church, friends, family…)

These are what we explain as the three keys to success with everything.  As they get older the journeys and skills become more challenging and they become more independent and confident as leaders. In each of the levels they choose one of three journeys that suits who they are:

  • It’s your World Change It- “Agent of Change” –Power of One, Power of Team and Power of Community
    There are also 5 skill badges that support the journey:  Digital Photographer, Staying Fit, Musician, Entertainment Tech, and Scribe
  • It’s your Planet-love It! “Get Moving”–Energize, Investigate and Innovate (this is our troop’s interest)
    Skill Badges:  Jeweler, Gardener, Detective, Camper, and Independence
    ***NOTE: we will add Beekeeper to this skill set!
  • It’s your Story-Tell it! “aMUSE”–Reach out, Speak Out and Try Out  (This badge helps girl’s break out of stereotypes and redefines their roles as women in leadership roles not matter what they choose to become in life)
    Skill Badges:  Geocacher, Animal Habitats, Playing the Past, Product Designer and Social Butterfly

Girl Scouts also has badges that Juliette Gordan Low would have taught the very first Girl Scouts in 1912. They are Legacy Skills – Drawing, Practice with a purpose, Inside Government, Simple Meals, Junior First Aid, Girl Scout Ways, and flowers.

As leaders or advisers we teach them how to be financially literate with product sales and money-making events like the jewelry class. With the money they earn they decide how to use the money for things they want to do (things they want vs things they need) and then they need to give a portion of what they earn to help others through philanthropy. At each level from Daisies to Ambassadors (K-12) the girls need to give service hours to help someone in their community.  Juniors give 15 hours in service to their country, community, church, nursing home, food pantry or soup kitchen. This part they love!

BEElieve me, there are some great odds that these go-getters will get that badge. “Some go far beyond and some just like to do girl things together. My job will be keeping them focused and organized… LOL” :o)  ~scout leader Kathleen Ann Mulligan-McHenry
Check back, for a follow-up on troop 90830’s Bee Badge progress! stay tuned.

2 thoughts on “Bring back the BEE Badge!”

  1. Thank you for supporting our troop in what we are doing and for letting us come. We can’t wait to finish making the bee badge.

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