About two years from now, German Perilla, MAIS ’12, hopes about four acres of the I-95 Landfill Complex in Lorton, Virginia, will be transformed intogreen meadows with grasses, wildflowers, and bees—lots of bees.
The ambitious endeavor—a partnership among George Mason, Fairfax County, and Covanta, a private waste energy company that runs the landfill’s incinerator—is the latest example of Mason Honey Bee Initiative’s broadening profile on campus and its outreach into the community.
“The main goal of the Honey Bee Initiative is to educate students, professors, and the general public on the importance of pollinators. This is the platform to do it,” says Perilla, co-founder of the initiative and a faculty member in the School of Business and the College of Science. “This country depends on pollinators for its food security, and honey bees are the most versatile pollinators you can find.”
The 500-acre I-95 landfill project actually began with complex manager and Mason alumnus Eric Forbes, BA Integrative Studies’02. A classmate of Perilla’s while at Mason, Forbes thought bee apiaries on closed areas of the property would be a win-win, and gave his old friend a call. Forbes says he wants to eventually turn 25 acres of landfill into meadows. That will not only provide habitat for native wildlife and pollinators, it will lower maintenance costs for the landfill through reduced mowing. New root systems will also reduce storm water runoff and erosion.
At an on-campus “smart hive hackathon” in February, students began using technology to brainstorm about developing devices and apps to monitor hive health and battle colony collapse disorder, which is devastating bee populations worldwide.
In claiming portions of the complex that have been closed and capped by soil and turf, the group planted seeds for rye grass and wildflowers on two acres in October and two acres this spring. Twelve hives, each with15,000 bees, will create an education site open to students and school groups. The sites will take about two years to mature.
Officials from Fairfax County’s Solid Waste Management Program backed the strategy and donated $5,000, as did Covanta. The money went to buy seeds, bees, hives, and a pollen substitute to help feed the hives as they become established.
“I’m ecstatic about it,” says Forbes. “These partnerships between a state university and local government can lead to bigger and better things for education and the community.”
“It’s an opportunity we never had,” says Perilla. “The fact that we’re working with Covanta, Fairfax County, and the community really opens some doors.”