The sensory experience of how honey is made is universal: the sound of the bees buzzing, the look of them swarming, the beautiful golden glow of honey dripping from the comb and the sweet taste of honey.
Beekeeping demos are one way that Creative Dining Services helps residents keep learning. Several recent studies on aging have shown that staying engaged by learning can help stave off the effects of cognitive aging.
And bees are a friendly way to get into learning for seniors, since they’re so familiar.
“Bees have a universal story, whether you’ve been stung by one as a kid or just enjoy honey,” says Laurie Stears, promotions and public relations coordinator with Creative Dining. “People are fascinated by beekeeping: You wear goofy-looking suits and use unusual equipment.”
After seeing the presentation, residents get to sample the honey on hot biscuits, obviously pure bliss for any age.
In an example of finding hidden talents on the dining team, it turns out that two employees happen to be beekeepers, and are ready to share their knowledge with residents at a few different locations.
Director of Corporate Sustainability Janine Oberstadt and Jay Sharkey, GM of the Brandywine Creek community in Covert, Mich., are two of seven beekeepers who work for Creative Dining Services as their day job. That knowledge is a valuable asset. Between Oberstadt and Sharkey, they have seven bee colonies. In the spring, each colony has about 10,000 bees and at their peak in summer, each colony is home to more than 420,000 bees.
Obesrstadt has incorporated her beekeeping visits into dining promotions. Recently, Creative Dining Services teamed up with General Mills for the Bee Happy. Bee Healthy promotion, and worked a beekeeping demo into the day. The Creative Dining team has been amazed at the connections with residents through the beekeeping demos.
“What we thought would be a 20-minute educational component turned into an hour-long presentation,” Stears says. “The residents packed the room and we were pleasantly surprised at the attendance and interest in beekeeping.”
The event helped make connections to the seniors and jog memories as well.
“We found out that two audience members were retired beekeepers!” Stears says. “One was from Eastern Europe and had such fun memories growing up in a beekeeping family. She couldn’t get enough of touching all the equipment and the smell of bees…warm wax and honey.”
Oberstadt says that the presentation itself provides education in a hands-on way, and also promotes an important sustainability message about bees.
“Our presentation is a teaching tool,” she says. “Bees are a declining balance and we want people to be bee ambassadors.”
The importance of that link to the agricultural past that the senior citizens hold in their memory can’t be understated in today’s world, Oberstadt says.
“In our senior living communities, our residents are the last generation to have such personal ties and connections to farming,” she says. “I find honey to be a unifier. It’s a staple agricultural product…so beautiful in color and it’s sweet. People treat it with reverence.”