Lego League winners seek backyard hive
A group of award-winning Lakeville middle schoolers are taking a stand for bees.
Sixth-graders on the “Beestmode” First Lego League Team recently asked the Lakeville City Council to change city ordinances to allow backyard beehives.
At the request of City Council members, the issue will go before the Planning Commission in January and may later return to the council for action.
Students explored the issue while competing in the First Lego League competition.
The competition involves building and programing a robot to do certain activities and presenting a research project around a certain theme, which this year was improving human-animal interactions.
Beestmode Lego League member Mason Ertel said their six-member group choose to research bees because of his connection to a local beekeeper, Ertel’s grandfather, Iver Iverson of Golden Valley.
Iverson is a beekeeper, and has shared with his grandchildren the importance of honeybees, raising concern with them about a decline of the valuable pollinators.
The team visited Iverson as part of their research, and they won first place in the presentation category at the regional First Lego League competition Dec. 4, qualifying the team to compete in sectionals in January. The championship will be held in February.
Iverson told the students honeybees are dying for reasons that are unclear, but could be due to factors including mites, loss of habitat, a lack of bee-friendly flowers and chemicals found a certain type of pesticide.
In an interview, Iverson said he and his wife are avid gardeners and had kept a few bee colonies in the 1970s when he lived in rural Anoka County.
He said his interest in beekeeping was reignited after taking a beekeeping class at the University of Minnesota. He has kept bees for the last five years.
Iverson said insecticide wears down bees’ immune systems over time, making them more susceptible to viruses.
He said loss of bee habitat, exacerbated by row crops and commercial farms, has contributed to the problem.
“There’s nothing for the bees to eat in that environment,” Iverson said. “And that of course is wearing down the species as well.”
Iverson said backyard beekeeping will help not only improve bee population but raise awareness of their importance.
Backyard beekeeping in Lakeville is not allowed now, because bees, like chickens, are considered agricultural animals, not permitted in residential areas.
Beestmode team member Leah Willingham said they are asking the city to remove bees from that category in its ordinances to allow backyard beekeeping.
She said there also is a fear bees will sting people if there are backyard hives, but said bees will only sting people if they feel their life or the hive is being threatened.
“Once they sting you, they die,” Willingham said. “They can only sting once, and so they would not sting you unless you were doing something that was really dangerous to them or their hive.”
Iverson said he was impressed with the students’ interest in beekeeping and their efforts to influence change.
He said he has invited them to make the same presentation to the Golden Valley City Council, in an effort to also allow backyard beehives there.
“I have talked to my city council members one-on-one over the last couple years, and haven’t gotten anywhere with them because they felt bees were farm animals,” Iverson said.
He said he decided to ask the students to present in his city after seeing “how well the kids presented themselves, knew their subject matter and how well they were received before the Lakeville City Council.”
He described the students as “remarkable.”
“They’ve done their homework,” Iverson said. “They have wonderful critical-thinking skills, where they have presented something that they believe in, so they put together a presentation that’s convincing, very rational, a good argument and they have their facts in order, so that’s what selling it, besides their wonderful personalities.”
Team members also include Steve Launsbach, Alex Braaten, Deidre Grimm, Matthew Osborn. Coaches are Amy Willingham and Mike Launsbach.