One sweet gesture by one 4-H family in Dickinson County, Kansas, has bloomed onto a global scale.
In three years, the Tokach family of Abilene, Kansas, has raised enough donations through their 4-H beekeeping project and their small batches of honey to donate 165 honeybee hives through Heifer Project International. That’s $4,950 worth of honeybees that are donated to villagers around the world who are trying to change their lives.
And it all began with a couple of 4-Hers and a beehive.
In 2010, Rogan Tokach, now 17 years old, and his older sister, Sage, were young 4-H members just interested in bees.
“Well, at the Central Kansas Free Fair in Abilene, there was a honey booth run by a beekeeper from Solomon,” Tokach explained. It sparked an interest in the young siblings to raise bees for honey, and led to them applying for a scholarship from the Kansas Honey Producers Association. The scholarship provided two packages of bees, one hive and some beekeeping suits as well as members who would mentor to young beekeepers as they learned about the business, Becky and Steve Tipton, of Meriden, Kansas.
“That first year, we didn’t produce a lot, and what we did, we gave it all away,” Tokach said. “That second year, though we had a good honey flow.” Enough honey the family wanted to do something with it beyond just giving it away as presents.
The Tokach parents, Mike and Lisa, have had experience with the Heifer Project in the past, so the donation process through Heifer Project was something familiar to the family.
“Mom and Dad have gone to Camaroon and Cambodia with Heifer to help out with pigs, and we’ve done stuff with them in the past,” Rogan Tokach explained. “I was looking in the catalog and I saw that for $30, you could give a hive. So we started offering our honey, one pound for a $10 donation to Heifer, and for every three jars we could give one hive.” This idea quickly bloomed into a Facebook page—“Honey for Heifer”—that has quite a following, connecting donors and honey afficianados with the good work at Heifer Project (https://www.facebook.com/Honey-for-Heifer-407518522709017/). And, there the family can share what they do with the bees so the general public can better understand these pollinators and their vital work for food production.
But the sweet ideas just kept flowing for the Tokaches. Not only do they still donate beehives to the Heifer Project, they have also started helping others in the community learn about beekeeping as well.
“Well, we’re pretty involved in 4-H, and last year in Dickinson County we learned there’s a new thing called the 4-H SPIN Club,” Tokach said. The 4-H SPIN Club concept combines the Special Interest Groups with the 4-H Club Model. Youth and their families, who may not be 4-H members, can participate in 4-H youth development activities led by volunteers, according to the Kansas State 4-H website. Typically these SPIN Clubs cover a topic that may or may not be a typical 4-H project, which is where the Tokaches and their beekeeping knowledge come into play.
“We established a Beekeeping SPIN club here in Dickinson County,” Tokach explained. “We started out with 12 to 15 members last year. It’s for people who are interested in beekeeping, but instead of them going out and getting a hive, they can come here, we can teach them something, and if they like they can continue on their own. If not, they aren’t out any money and they don’t have to get rid of a hive.” Tokach was proud the club has grown with about three new families, and several have purchased their own sets of bees.
The SPIN Club concept also caught the eye of the Kansas Honey Producers Association, which had changed its scholarship to include a grant component to now allow group’s to apply for funding needs. So the Tokaches applied on behalf of the SPIN Club and were awarded funds for two beehives that are now located on the grounds of Brown Memorial Home and the Brown Memorial Park just south of Abilene. The hives are used for teaching members about honey production and beekeeping, and their location, in the orchard on the grounds, has been beneficial to the bees and the fruit trees there.
“The people at Brown have really been great,” Tokach said. “They even donated money to help us pick up more beekeeping suits and they let us put our bees in their orchard.” Of the SPIN Club honey produced out at the grounds, Tokach explained that half or maybe a third is split amongst the members for their personal use and the rest is given to the Brown Memorial Home. The staff uses the honey in preparing meals for the senior citizen residents of the home.
Older sister Sage is in college now and Rogan will be on his way to Kansas State University this fall to earn a degree in animal science with a biotechnology option and a minor in statistics and entomology. Their younger sister, Fiona, will likely continue with the beekeeping tradition, Rogan explained.
Beekeeping, which started out as a sweet project for the family, has really bloomed beyond that for the Tokaches. Not only do they volunteer to teach others the art of beekeeping in the community, but they are helping others around the globe better their own communities through their Honey for Heifer.
And that’s surely one honey of an idea.
Written by Jennifer M. Latzke for High Plains Journal