Contributed by Tyson Hermes
Back in 2010, when I was thinking about becoming a beekeeper, I was reading the state and local laws to make sure it was okay for me to have bees at my house. In the course of this research I found a section of the Kentucky Revised Statute entitled "Beekeeping Fund."
Apparently back in 2008 as part of the Tobacco Settlement, this fund was created. "Great!", I thought. "Surely I will qualify for some financial assistance!"
I contacted Phil Craft, the State Apiarist at that time. I explained who I was, and that I was familiar with the beekeeping fund. "I would like to see what I need to do to qualify for financial assistance". Phil kind-of laughed under his breath… "There's a Beekeeping Fund, alright. But it’s never had a penny put into it. Sorry." The wind quickly left my sail, and I proceeded as any normal beekeeper – with my own hard-earned money.
Flash-forward a couple years. I was driving down the road one day this Spring, and "BAM", it hit me! I figured out how to fund the Beekeeper's Fund! (I guess the proper term is "endow" the fund). It had been in front of me for years. There are tons of semi-custom Not-For-Profit license plates out there. You've seen them. "Autism Awareness", "Breast Cancer Research", "Friends of Coal", "Fallen Officers Fund", "Neuter your pets", etc. Why not have a Beekeeping License Plate?
In Kentucky, these semi-custom plates cost extra. $10 from the sale of each plate (and every year upon renewal) goes into the Fund of the Not-For-Profit. That can turn into some SERIOUS funding! I figured on the conservative side, and estimate that this could generate between $25,000 to $50,000 per year for the fund. (As a side note, the Kentucky Proud "Four H/ FFA" FARM plate for Kentucky generated $240,000 in 2012! Commissioner James Comer was proud to hand an oversized check of $120,000 EACH to the Four H, and the Future Farmers of America.)
I talked with Sean Burgess, the current Kentucky State Apiarist. He was quickly on-board. We pulled in help from another seasoned beekeeper and master cattleman from Upton, KY, Tamara Rahm.
We met and brainstormed several times. Sean set up a meeting with the Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture. We were told sternly that we had a date, and would have 15 minutes.
Over the course of a couple weeks we prepared a presentation outlining our goals for the fund, and how we planned to fund it. When the date of our presentation finally arrived, we were as nervous as a bunch of cats! We pitched our idea. James Comer loved it! He had lots of questions, but he had as much fun dreaming of the possibilities as we did in our brainstorming sessions! We left his conference room about 75 minutes later.
Sean Burgess called and left a message on my voicemail that evening. "Hey Tyson! I just wanted to say thank you! I'm still smiling from ear to ear. The meeting today went even better than expected! You have done a great thing that's going to benefit a lot of beekeepers across the State for a long time."
We are fortunate. The Commissioner was so happy about the Beekeeping License Plate that he decided to make it one of the "State Standard Plates" starting in 2015. That saves us a ton of work. Otherwise, as a Not-For-Profit, we would have had to gather 900 commitments before we could submit to the Department of Transportation’s Board of Review. No doubt, we would have gotten it, but it would have taken a lot of work.
Once funded, the plan is to create educational opportunities for students and adults statewide, foster relationships with new/ prospective beekeepers, and to provide financial assistance for small operators. In addition, the Department of Agriculture will develop a Deputy Inspector program to increase responsiveness to beekeepers across the state.
Every state is going to be different. My goal is to try to inspire more people in other states to try the same thing. I will make myself available to answer questions. You can reach me via email here or here (emails cloaked to prevent harvesting by spam bots), or you can talk to me at the Southeastern Indiana Beekeepers Association meetings on the 3rd Thursday of the month. Good luck, and I'd love to hear of your idea or experience in your state.
Tyson is a second-year beekeeper in Erlanger, KY. In addition, he is a husband, father, business owner, builder, and ski instructor.