Lakeville students encourage cities to become pollinator-friendly

by Gina Purcell and Tad Johnson

A group of Lakeville students is making a buzz about beekeeping in the Twin Cities.

Last month, a First Lego League team from Lakeville presented its research to the Golden Valley and Lakeville city councils  as community leaders are considering backyard beekeeping.

Beestmode, a team comprised of Lakeville sixth-graders and a home-schooled child, researched bees as part of the real-world problem to solve for the program, which also requires them to design, build and program a robot.

The student team along with Ballistic Bots — a rookie team of fifth-graders from Eastview and Oak Hills elementary schools ­— were among the top 10 percent of teams competing Feb. 25 in the First Lego League State Championship in St. Paul where Beestmode won first for in Quality of Research.

The team finished seventh overall along with in the top seven for Core Values.

Lakeville has 12 of the 633 First Lego League teams in Minnesota. Of the 12, eight advanced to sectionals and two to state.

Many of the teams that advance to state are comprised of girls and boys who have been participating in the league for three to five years, according to Lakeville’s Lego League coordinator, Maureen Carrigan.

“For both Ballistic Bots and Beestmode to advance to state competition is remarkable,” Carrigan said. “For Beestmode to be in consideration for the champions award, Core Values award, and to win the Quality of Research award as sixth-graders with one to two years of experience is outstanding.”

This is the fourth year in a row that a Lakeville team has brought home state trophies, which Carrigan says is a tremendous accomplishment because Minnesota is one of the most competitive states in the nation.

Beestmode team members Steve Launsbach, Leah Willingham, Mason Ertel, Matthew Osborn, Deidre Grimm and Alex Braaten along with coaches Amy Willingham and Mike Launsbach conducted their research by interviewing David Schultz, a law professor at Hamline University, along with visits to Iver Iverson’s Bee Farm and the University of Minnesota Bee Lab.

Scouring websites and viewing documentaries was also part of the research process.

According to the students, the U.S. lost 40 percent of its bee colonies in 2015-16. Possible explanations for the colony collapses include pesticides, varroa mites, loss of habitat or not enough bee-friendly flowers and plants. This is a problem, the group said.

According to the students’ research, bees pollinate one-sixth of flowering plant species worldwide and approximately 400 agricultural plants. Bees are also responsible for pollinating more than 100 types of crops in the U.S. Without bees, approximately 85 percent of plants would not exist.

Within their research, the students reviewed Golden Valley’s city code to find that bees are classified as farm animals and not allowed on residential property.

Beestmode recommended Golden Valley join some of its neighboring communities and become bee-friendly in order to save the dying population.

The neighboring cities of Edina, Minneapolis and St. Louis Park allow beekeeping. In Edina, bees are allowed with a permit. In Minneapolis, bees must be kept on the second story of the home or higher and the hive must be registered with the city.

St. Louis Park went a different route. The use of pesticides is not allowed in eight parks within the community. The city also encourages dandelions and white clover to attract bees. The city offers classes on bees to educate its citizens of the issue.

Other pollinator-friendly cities in the metro area include Shorewood, Stillwater, Andover, Mendota Heights, Maplewood, Lake Elmo, Duluth and St. Paul.

When asked what cities impressed them the most, answers vary among the students, but Minneapolis, St. Paul and St. Louis Park were named as impressive.

Minneapolis and St. Paul made the list because of the size of the cities and promimity of the houses to one another.

One student was impressed by St. Louis Park which went above and beyond to make their community bee-friendly.

When asked how bees are contained so they are not a nuisance to people or worse. The students informed the council there is a phone number to call in case of an incident. Volunteers, many of them beekeepers, will come and take the bees away where the bees will not harm anyone or harvest the bees and move them to a new hive.

“I think its crucial we resolve this issue or it could result in a food shortage,” Golden Valley Council Member Steve Schmidgall said. “I would promote whatever we can do in Golden Valley to be a bee-friendly city.”

The Ballistic Bots research project and solution involved a way to allow animal shelters and animal transportation providers to work together to balance out overcrowded and underutilized shelters.

The team developed a working website (http://petrescuenetwork.us/) to facilitate communication between shelters and transportation providers and already has 16 shelters and 11 pet transport providers signed up.

More about the teams is at http://lakevilleroboticsmn.weebly.com/fll-news.html.

Contact Gina Purcell at [email protected] and Tad Johnson at [email protected].