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Beekeeping Brings Income to West Virginia


West Virginia has long been known as an important coal producing state in the eastern United States. But the coal business is slowing. Many mines are closing, leaving their workers without a job.

James Scyphers was one of the workers. Today, he is happy to be working above ground -- keeping bees.

Bees make honey in their homes, known as hives, and beekeepers make money selling that honey.

Bees at a thriving bee yard near Beckley, West Virginia. (J.Taboh/VOA)
Bees at a thriving bee yard near Beckley, West Virginia. (J.Taboh/VOA)

After leaving the military, Scyphers worked as a builder and later as a coal miner.

Standing by his hives on a rural farm near Beckley, West Virginia, Scyphers wears a hat and covering around his head to protect him from bee stings.

"See here, here's the queen. See how much bigger she is?"

He no longer needs the hard hat he wore during his 16 years in the coal mines.

Scyphers loves being outside. He has come to respect and value the honeybees he raises. He says being a beekeeper is the best job he has ever had.

"A lot of times underground you're working in water and dark conditions and at times it's miserable. This is not miserable. This is a real enjoyable job. I'm paying off a lot of my bills that we've had in the past that's built up over the years and able to do things for my grandbabies and my family."

Scyphers found his current job through the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective. The non-profit program teaches people how to become beekeepers—including workers who have lost their jobs and other low-earning West Virginians seeking extra money.

After a free five-week class, the new beekeepers receive bees, hives and the supplies they need to get started.

Expert beekeeper Mark Lilly teaches at the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective. He says that during his travels around the state, he has seen people without hope. But the beekeeping program, he says, can help a family make an additional three to five thousand dollars a year. “If you're only making $30,000,” he said, “that's a huge, huge improvement” in your life.

Beekeeper Mike Davis says keeping bees gives him something to look forward to each day.

"The bees are just not only calming, it's just like, similar to dogs that other people have, I have that same affection for my bees."

Davis adds that southern West Virginia is a great place to raise bees and harvest honey.

"This area of southern West Virginia is the largest forage in the world. We don't have pesticides, insecticides, because we don't have commercial farming. So, we have the trees. We have a lot of water; the conditions are great for the bees."

The many different plants and flowers found in the state helps the bees make tasty honey. They take a substance called nectar from the plants and then use it to make honey in their hives.

Terri Giles is with Appalachian Headwaters, which runs the beekeeping collective.

"I look here and I see what used to be a thriving railroad community has turned into a community with not a lot of options. This beekeeping collective that we are sponsoring is giving people options, but better yet, it's giving people hope for the future."

I’m Anne Ball.

Julie Taboh reported this story for VOA. Anne Ball adapted the story for VOA Learning English.

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Words in This Story

honey – n. a thick, sweet substance made by bees

sting – n. a quick, sharp pain

miserable – adj. very unhappy

affection – n. a feeling of liking and caring for someone or something

forage – n. grasses or other plants that are eaten by animals

pesticide – n. a chemical that is used to kill animals or insects that damage plants or crops

commercial – adj. related to or used in the buying and selling of goods and services

thrive – v. to grow or develop successfully : to flourish or succeed

sponsor – n. someone who takes responsibility for something or someone

option – n. the opportunity or ability to choose something or to choose between two or more things