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The Glass Bee Fellowship

We’re so excited that our bees are now going to be funding an undergraduate fellowship at URI. It was such a logical step. For years the bees have been our best seller, and with the plight of bees everywhere, from colony collapse to mites to pesticides, it seemed only right that our bees should give back to other bees. We rely on bees and other pollinators so much more than we know. In fact, it’s estimated that one out of every three bites of food we eat is created with the help of pollinators. The United Nations Environment Program notes that of the 100 crop varieties that provide 90-% of the world’s food, 71 are pollinated by bees. No bees, no food. And yet like all parts of our ecosystems, bees are delicate. They’re so like glass: strong and capable of so much when treated with respect, yet so fragile when mistreated.

I first began making the bees in 2007, when I was a production glass blower and aspiring beekeeper in the mountains of Colorado. I had some experience lamp working as well, before I started blowing glass, and one of the first things I started making were tiny bees that I made in to earrings and other jewelry. I had been talking with a customer about my experience keeping bees, and she asked me if I could make a bee for her mother, Beatrice, who’s nickname was Bee. So the first bee was born of a special order. It was the first thing I ever designed.

I wanted to keep it simple. What is the essence of bee? A bee is stripes, wings, and a stinger. It turned out so cute that I started making many of them, taking them to local garden shops and gift shops to sell them on consignment or wholesale. And with that product, Jennifer Nauck Handblown Glass was established.

When I moved to Rhode Island and combined forces with Eben, we started making them as a team and producing many of them. Our wholesale accounts grew and pretty soon we were selling over 1000 per year. A friend of ours from California was a volunteer at the Planet Bee Foundation, and they became the first beneficiaries of the bees when we started donating a portion of bee sales. But after a few years, we decided it was more important to keep that money closer to home, in Rhode Island.

I first reached out to Dr. Steven Alm, an entomologist at the University of Rhode Island, with the idea of funding a fellowship with our bees. He was enthusiastic about our support and suggested that we fund a summer fellowship through URI’s Coastal Fellows program for an undergraduate student in bee research. This year, the fellowship will fund an undergraduate student who will help Research Assistant Casey Johnson and masters degree candidate Julia Vieira, both former Coastal Fellows, in a summer survey of bees at sites across Rhode Island. The student will be trained in identifying different bees and plants in bloom and will help analyze collected data. The study will focus on the importance of several plants to Bombus fervidus, a bumble bee that is in decline and is currently listed as vulnerable.

Our hope is that through our fundraising here at the Glass Station, we can not only help bees by funding their research, but maybe we can also help raise awareness in the community about our own struggling native bees. Maybe people will be more likely to educate themselves on the importance of things like leaving habitat for bees to overwinter and not using pesticides in their yards and gardens. We rely on bees for so much, hopefully they can rely on us too.

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