Building a better hive may seem like a niche activity, but given that a third of the food on our dinner plates on any given night relies on pollination by bees, the mission is far-reaching.
And because bee colonies continue to be felled by colony collapse disorder, finding a way to keep them alive and strong are key issues for scientists as well as hobbyists.
That will be among the topics March 18, when nationally known experts convene at the W.W. Grainger corporate office in Lake Forest for the day long Mettawa Bee Seminar.
"Better nutrition means stronger bees," renowned newsman Bill Kurtis says in a promotional video for the event. The Mettawa resident and keeper of three hives also discussed the issue Monday on the WGN morning news.
"Suddenly, I find myself in the middle of the story and the story is colony collapse," he said.
Former Mettawa Mayor Jess Ray is a local expert and member of the Lake County Bee Association. Two years ago, he organized a session regarding keeping bees alive over winter.
Next month's "Nutrition: The Next Step" is the follow up, but on a much broader scale.
"My biggest concern was, 'Where would we have this?'" Ray said.
Grainger is donating the space, security, audiovisual resources and lunch. Ray will provide company chefs with 12 pounds of honey to prepare honey-based treats for attendees.
Hotel space is being discounted and the 150-member Lake County Bee Association is fronting about $15,000. Fees and donations will offset the cost, said association Treasurer Tim Hamilton. General admission is $48.
"It's important. Bee nutrition is a hot subject right now," he said.
Among the topics are the importance of nutrition in the colony and how to assist; changes in the bee environment and what beekeepers can do about various issues; and how better nutrition of honeybees may help build their immunity to diseases.
Increasing use of pesticides and widespread practice of single crop mega planting in commercial agriculture has led to a decrease in native vegetation bees need to be healthy and productive, according to promotional information for the event. This produces huge tracts of "desert" for bees, Hamilton said.
But the real problem is parasitic mites, he added, and strengthening and increasing bee health is regarded as essential to that fight.
There should be a plenty of locals in the seminar's audience. The number of hobby beekeepers in Lake County has increased 163 percent in the past six years to 268, ranking second among Illinois counties, according to information provided by Ray. Beekeeping also is up in Mettawa, with more than 100 beehives in a village of 250 homes, he said.
State records are not tracked down to local municipalities, Ray said, but the Illinois Department of Agriculture suggests Mettawa may well be tops in beehives per home.