For the Love of Good: How beekeeping is tackling loneliness

Beekeeping has proven psychological benefits. As you tend hives, you’re forced to move slowly and methodically; bees don’t like to be startled, and people don’t like to get stung. You’re spending time in nature, and preferably in the sun (bees don’t like the cold either). Your actions are meditative, contemplative, and you’re more present. As you relax into the bees’ hum and gently bring your attention to the hive, it’s easier to step away from anxious thoughts. You feel happier.

I work with Servants Community Housing, a Melbourne-based social housing provider and a local expression of the church on mission. It’s a bit like the inn in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan – you can stay with us as long as you need when you’re down and out.

My wife Mikyla and I have the privilege of living on-site with 28 men at one of our properties – a former aged-care building – where our goalposts are to facilitate safety and hospitality, practise acceptance without judgment and, crucially, help residents connect to the community.

We knew programs like this were needed, especially after the first COVID lockdown in Melbourne, which left our residents feeling exhausted, isolated, and worried about their health.

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One of the great challenges in supporting this cohort of people is that opportunity doesn’t come easily. Most are unemployed. Many have significant barriers to engaging in paid or even unpaid work. And so, for a long time, we had dreamed of starting an on-site beekeeping program. Having something to care for bestows trust and dignity, which are core values for us but are sometimes rare experiences for residents.

You can stay with us as long as you need when you’re down and out.

We started with a local grant combined with funds from members of a local church. We made plans, bought hives and hired a beekeeper. Residents worked with staff and volunteers, building hives, stringing frames, and painting. Some residents jumped right in. Others cautiously looked on from afar, tempted closer each time their neighbours donned the bee suits.

It might sound odd, but 18 months on, what’s emerged is a program greater than the sum of its parts. Residents have not only harvested the first round of honey (over 90kg, an outstanding first harvest) but have also been involved at every step of the process. “Working bees” with Rotary and local church volunteers have brought bee-friendly plants to our gardens. One resident, Darren, designed the artwork for the packaging – a bright, triangular pattern that abstractly resembles a hive. The honey is sweet and golden, and all the better for knowing how it got here.

Jayden Battey and residents of Melbourne's Servants community housing

Staff and residents pick applies at Hazeldean Forest Farm. Jayden Battey is third from right.

While governments work to address deficits in society (healthcare, housing, etc), churches can do so much more.

It’s been a good news story from start to finish. Stevie, a local church member, was working at a regenerative apple farm when he joined our team of live-in house managers. Knowing the good that apple picking had done for his sense of peace, he invited residents to join him. Two picking days and thousands of organic apples later, we partnered with a local manufacturer to launch a pilot product into the market: 3000 cans of 100 per cent organic, non-alcoholic, slightly sparkling apple juice. Trust us, it’s delicious.

We’ve packaged the products under the brand For the Love of Good. It’s our way of saying what we’re all about – growing things that are good and necessary for us to thrive. Things such as a deeper sense of connection, empathy for the vulnerable, a passion for hospitality and a sense of learning all go back to the roots of the local church that birthed Servants in the 80s. We also have great-tasting products, which, since their launch in August, have flown off shelves (after we sold 60kg honey and 3000 cans in just over four weeks, we pumped out 2000 more and built plans to expand in 2024).

Karina and Hannah collect their For the Love of Good honey from Adeney Cafe, Kew.

Staff Karina and Hannah collect their honey from Adeney Cafe, Kew.

The entire project is a stunning example of the good the local church can do. As a charity and registered housing provider, Servants was a hospitality-centred response by members of Hawthorn West Baptist Church to prevent homelessness in the area. And while governments work to address deficits in society (healthcare, housing, etc), churches can do so much more.

In a world riddled by loneliness, examples of strong communities can be hard to come by. Churches, theoretically, are experts at it, but I have a hunch many congregants could reflect on a gnawing sense of disconnection from their church community. For the Love of Good reminds us of what can easily be forgotten – the mutual transformation possible only when we slow down, spend time with one another, and work together towards a better future.

“I’m not just defined by a mental illness. I can partake and learn again” – Andrew

As residents take care of bees that depend on their care, they realise they’re more capable than they thought. Staff and volunteers experience meaningful relationships, new opportunities to learn, and a genuine sense of fun.

Andrew, a resident at the property where I live, sees the bees as a great way to support his mental health. “Once I got introduced to the bees, my curiosity took over my fear,” he says. “The bees and the hives give me a sense of belonging and purpose.” He also thinks the program can grow. “The possibilities, for me, are endless. I’m not just defined by a mental illness. I can partake and learn again. Win, win, win, win – and honey!”

For the Love of Good's 100 per cent Pure Boroondara-made honey

100 per cent Pure Boroondara-made honey

We have the capacity to create good because we’re created in the image of a good creator.

This project has taken a lot of work, but the most rewarding outcome is the determined resident who, while grieving the death of a friend and neighbour, had a reason to get up the next morning – to look after the bees. The long-term unemployed resident who, after picking apples with friends from home, had the confidence to start a new job. The resident with a psychiatric illness who looks at a product on the shelf of a local café and gets to say, “I made that happen. That’s because of me.”

Churches, let’s be encouraged. We have more capacity to create good than we know – not because we’re the experts and can fix people’s problems. No, we have the capacity to create good because we’re created in the image of a good creator. Just as God invited Adam to name the animals, so he invites us to join in his great creative, redemptive work, moving forward in the steadfast hope of seeing his kingdom now as it is in heaven.

There’s a housing crisis going on, and we could use your ideas, your connections, and your funds to keep growing the good work we get to be part of. We love new people jumping on board, and you never know what good you might help create. Whether it’s beekeeping, apple-picking, house-building, meal-sharing, or community-making, it’s all thanks to God and for the love of good.

If you want to get involved, reach out and say hi at [email protected].

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