A new buzz at Subway headquarters: Bees

A new sustainability project at Subway World Headquarters in Milford has employees becoming beekeepers as they oversee two hives of about 50,000 honeybees.

The hives are located in a small fenced-in area in the corner of one of the company’s parking lots, adjacent to a section of woodland, and during the week rotating teams of Subway employees put on their bee suits to monitor this new addition to the corporate campus.

“Honeybees are among the hardest working and most important creatures in the world yet are facing an existential crisis,” explained Bob Brown, Subway public relations specialist. “If the bees disappear, so would many staples in our diet.”

That would mean foods in the Subway lineup, including cucumbers, pickles, onions, black olives and avocados.

A recent article at npr.org states that bee colony deaths continue to rise in the United States, and the article attributes the decline to issues such as “decreasing crop diversity, poor beekeeping practices and loss of habitat.”

“Pesticides weaken bees' immune systems and can kill them,” the article states, adding that certain mites can latch onto bees, causing entire colonies to collapse.

Subway isn’t expecting to save the world’s bee population with its two hives, but the staff does think they can shed light on bees, unite and educate employees and in turn others about environmental issues impacting bees and hopefully make a difference, even if it’s just by encouraging others to plant flowers or limit pesticide use at home.

John Scott, vice president of Quality and Sustainability at Subway World Headquarters, said he would love to see beekeeping expand to other Subway properties after this initial effort takes off.

Subway partnered with Hurd’s Farm & Apiary, a family-owned farm in Middlebury, to care for the bees, train and coach the more than 70 employees who signed up to be part of the project.

The bees arrived at Subway in May, after months of planning. Scott said a number of employees got involved, including landscapers who started adjusting lawn maintenance procedures for the sake of the bees.

Right off the bat the staff learned how “resilient and delicate the bee community can be,” Scott said, adding that everyone involved is taking a fresh look at the environment, and how factors such as lawn pesticides can impact these small creatures.

The volunteers’ work isn’t difficult, according to Andrea Seek, director of global sustainability. Now they are learning about the bees and their habits from beekeeper Ben Hurd, and as time goes on it will be their jobs to maintain and keep a watchful eye on the bees to make sure they thrive.

“We are sort of a health and wellness check,” Seek said.

While the company isn’t planning this as a honey making venture — rather an educational and awareness project — Hurd said Subway may get 80 to 100 pounds of honey per hive each year.

The staff members at Subway say they have already learned a lot from the bees, and they find them fascinating.

Volunteer Dana Casey, a process analyst at the company, said she has learned to face her fear of bees. Recently she caught a bee inside Subway and got it safely outside, whereas before she probably would have run away from it.

Another volunteer described beekeeping as a very zen experience. Several talked about sitting and watching as the bees carry out their daily tasks, like carrying pollen to the hive.

“Once the fear is gone, the next step is from a nature documentary point of view,” said Pete Mrsich, UI/UX designer.