UH Hilo’s Adopt-A-Beehive Program

A Recipe for Sweet Success

Take one farm-to-table local chef, combine gently with beekeeping courses at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo (UH Hilo) and allow the mixture to set. Voilà! The Adopt-A-Beehive with Alan Wong program at UH Hilo.

Alan Wong and Lorna Tsutsumi met in the 1970’s in school then set off on different paths; one becoming an international acclaimed pioneer of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine and the other earning her doctorate at University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UH Mānoa) in entomology then returning to her native Hilo to teach beekeeping at UH Hilo for the next thirty years. In 2009 on a trip to a renowned specialty vegetable farm called The Chef’s Garden in Ohio, Wong was inspired with their program that allowed the public to adopt a beehive and wanted to do something similar in Hawai’i. He turned to his friend, UH Mānoa alum and well-known graphic artist Kurt Osaki to find a beekeeper. “Kurt told me about a UH Hilo professor of beekeeping, and when he said it was Lorna Tsutsumi, I couldn’t believe it!” Wong laughed.  In 2011, the public-private Adopt-A-Beehive with Alan Wong program was officially born. To date the program cares for over a million bees and has attracted over one hundred donors each year who choose among three annual adoption levels ranging from $300 to $1,000 raising more than $300,000 in total. The funding is used to support student course needs such as equipment and supplies, scholarships (three $1,000 scholarships are offered yearly), and outreach promotion of the importance of honey bees, not only for their harvestable products, but for their pollination services to many important agricultural crops in the islands

 “The goal of the program is to reach out to the whole community and promote education and awareness about sustainability and the environment.” Tsutsumi explained.

“Our university classes are almost always full, but we wanted to build awareness beyond the classroom. Alan’s concept was to have people adopt hives to help provide resources and make it interactive, so everyone who adopts feels like a part of the program.” (Hanai Hives, Hana Hou!, Oct./Nov. 2014).

“Hilo is the only UH campus in the state to offer a three-credit course in beekeeping” said Tsutsumi, whose introductory course enrolls thirty-two students per semester. “Now, due to the donor support, we’ve added an advanced course that can take sixteen to twenty more students, leading to an optional UH Hilo beekeeping certificate.” (Hanai Hives, Hana Hou!, Oct./Nov. 2014). 

Much of the success of the program can be attributed to the adopters. Adopters like the Shigekunis who have been with the program since the first season when Vince adopted a hive for his wife Alison as a gift.  Over the years, they have enjoyed the student letters that update them on their hive, the invites to events and of course—the honey.  In 2016, they created an endowment in honor of Alison’s parents, the Ben and Fusae Fujise Beekeeping Endowment Scholarship that provides scholarships for beekeeping students at UH Hilo.

Kawaikapuokalani Genovia is a student who will be graduating this fall with a BS in agriculture, a minor in English, a certificate in teaching English as a second language and of course—a beekeeping certificate. He initially took the Introduction to Beekeeping course as an elective because it sounded interesting, but after being surrounded by 10,000 honey bees on a weekly basis, he decided to add a beekeeping certificate to his full list of a major, minor and certificate. Genovia said “The beekeeping courses are very hands-on and provides me with the practical skills needed to care for honey bee hives on my own as well as share my knowledge with others.” In February 2017, he helped to teach 20 students from Tokyo Kasei University about beekeeping when they visited the UH Hilo apiary. 

“I feel a deep connection to the bees because I tend them for adopters whom I send monthly letters to and who provide the beekeeping students with adequate resources so that we can learn proper beekeeping techniques,” said Genovia. “Then I get to pass that skill and knowledge on to students of all ages and from many places.” 

Born and raised in Waipio Valley on the Big Island, Genovia has had to support himself throughout college. This year he was selected as one of the recipients of the Adopt-A-Beehive scholarship for $1,000. “This money will definitely help me to finish my schooling and I am truly grateful to receive this scholarship,” he noted. 

 The program is all about partnerships. A local farming company, Wailea Agricultural Group (WAG), has UH Hilo hives on their property and have been working with the UH Hilo program for many years. “We have definitely seen an increase in our fruit harvests because of the bees.” said co-owner Michael Crowell of WAG. Another connection is with Sodexo on the UH Hilo campus. Sodexo promotes the use of local products and has been showcasing UH Hilo’s honey in many of their dishes. “We want to use the honey because it is harvested from the UH Hilo hives by UH Hilo students and is used to make dishes that are consumed by UH Hilo students in our cafeteria,” said manager Bridget Awong. 

The most recent partnership is between the program and Kapi‘olani Community College’s (KCC) Culinary Innovation Center. Last year, KCC’s Research Chef Lauren Tamamoto and Dean Bruce Mathews of UH Hilo’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management represented the UH System at U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono’s food and products showcase Hawai‘i on the Hill in Washington D.C. This year, the duo teamed up once again and integrated UH Hilo’s honey with the KCC’s culinary creativeness for the event held in June.

Who would have imagined some 40 plus years later that two friends would reconnect to form a unique and successful program that would positively impact UH students and the local community and in doing so—would bring more global awareness to the importance of the honey bee? Now that is a recipe for sweet success.