“Bees, bees, bees have been my whole life!” says Yvonne Koehnen of her nearly 60-year career in beekeeping. She was a school teacher when she married a beekeeper. She could have gone on teaching, but her husband convinced her that beekeeping was far more lucrative.
C.F. Koehnen & Sons is a well-known apiary in the United States. You might associate apiaries with honey, but this one doesn’t sell honey. In the Sacramento Valley, there aren’t enough wildflower meadows to sustain bees when they forage; this means the bees have to be fed, which defeats the purpose of keeping bees for honey. Instead, the company performs pollination services for local farmers. The bees are taken to fields to pollinate almond trees, prune trees and smaller plants such as cucumbers, carrots, onions, watermelons and cantaloupes. The seeds from these plants are then harvested and sold to seed companies. The company also raises queen bees which are shipped to hobbyist beekeepers and other customers across the United States.
Beekeeping has been an important industry in the Northern California agricultural area, especially as more almond trees were planted. This required more bees to pollinate the almond trees. Tens of thousands of queen bees (80% of the queen bees in the United States) are produced annually in the area, leading to the designation of the city of Orland as the “Queen Bee Capital of North America.”
Yvonne has long been passionate about volunteering her time to educate others about bees and beekeeping, sharing her knowledge garnered from years of beekeeping. With the help of some good local beekeepers, Yvonne and her husband formed a committee to create a bee museum. Today, the Honeybee Discovery Center works to build public awareness and understanding of bees, whose numbers are declining alarmingly due to pesticides and loss of habitat.
What inspires you to volunteer?
I was volunteering long before I ever realized that I was volunteering. I just did what happened along the way as a beekeeper’s wife. I gave many talks about bees to elementary classes in local schools when the students learned about insects in the spring. I set up and organized a two-day event all about bees and beekeeping annually for over 14 years at a threshing bee which involved 10-12 beekeepers to man our different canopies explaining how to raise queen bees, pollination, an observation frame and, of course, the bee beard which was done twice daily. That’s a lot of organizing, but it was so much fun, and everyone enjoyed it so much.
Describe your volunteer role with the Honeybee Discovery Center.
I have been involved in many areas of our bee museum over the years, and created its more exciting name: the Honeybee Discovery Center. We hired a first-class architectural firm from Sacramento to create a state-of-the-art center, and it will be outstanding. Our mission now is to raise the $8-12 million to build it. My big focus now is to find big sponsors to contribute. We’ve done very well on our own raising funds each of the last few years in which we raised over $90,000 each year. But we need big help to build a building and this building is just a spectacular design, as you can see on our website.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
I love seeing how little kids – and adults too – respond to learning about bees. I am committed to creating greater awareness and getting people passionate about protecting honeybees and other pollinators. Everyone wants to know how they can help to save the bees. I tell them to plant flowers for the bees. The bees need the nectar and pollen for their food.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
Volunteering is a wonderfully satisfying venture. I believe it sets the United States apart from other countries. There are so many opportunities to volunteer. All people have a certain little passion they care about, and if they just check into things a little, they can find a fun way to add some excitement to their lives.
Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?
Yes! Please check our website honeybeediscoverycenter.org for a big announcement, which will likely come before April. It is so exciting, nearly confirmed, but not yet able to be announced; it will be an amazing plus for our center!
Our Honeybee Discovery Center is creating a partnership with California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom for the bee curriculum.
“Casino Night with the Queen” on November 2, 2023, at the Butte Creek Country Club in Chico, California, will be a fun-filled fundraising event we are looking forward to enjoying with many locals who enjoy casinos.
Why is it important for others to get involved with causes they care about?
If you wish to enrich your life by meeting new like-minded individuals and you have a desire to make new friends, volunteering for a cause you admire or support may be the solution to fulfill a bit of unrealized happiness for you.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
What I’d like people to take away from my story is this: even if you don’t have the time to volunteer, you can help in other ways. If you’d like to help us build our Honeybee Discovery Center, please donate to the Honeybee Discovery Center. I’ll be so happy to send a thank you to you!
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Yvonne? Find local volunteer opportunities.