First, the pair of students measured out a few grams of beeswax. Then coconut oil and shea butter.
Over a double boiler, Hannah Melvin and Brandon Croy stirred the concoction until it turned to liquid. Croy added 10 drops of a spearmint essential oil, its smell overwhelming their lab table. Carefully, Melvin lifted the measuring glass and poured the simmering mixture into four lip balm tubes.
While it cooled, the pair cut a sheet of preprinted labels and then affixed them to the tubes.
“G-BEES. 100% natural and local lip balm. Proudly produced by Glenvar High School.”
The first tube of lip balm Melvin brought home was so good it didn’t last long, she said.
“I had everybody in my family wanting to use it,” Melvin said.
This batch, minus a tube Croy tested to see how the spearmint compared to earlier batches of peppermint, will go on sale to Glenvar students and teachers and joins a growing list of goods made by Charlie Filer’s science students, the production of which has grown into an almost schoolwide effort.
Filer didn’t have any experience in beekeeping before he proposed establishing a hive in the school’s outdoor classroom. After clearing it with the school’s principal, nurse and central office administrators, he won a grant from the Roanoke County Education Foundation to get it set up.
The woodworking classes helped build the hive, and a nucleus colony of Italian bees — known for being “really, really docile” — took up residence in the garden last summer.
“For me, my learning curve is still going straight up,” said Filer, who’s joined both the Botetourt Beekeepers and Blue Ridge Beekeepers associations to learn more about how to care for the hive.
Beeswax is a critical part of any hive, produced by worker bees as they consume honey. Learning about this process, where young bees secrete a liquefied wax that turns into beeswax, was precursor to the lip balm lab assignment.
Filer’s classes then take the beeswax and melt it down into golden yellow bars. It’s the core ingredient in the lip balm made by his ecology classes and the soap made by the science club.
The process of turning the beeswax into lip balm is relatively simple and could be done at home in a microwave, Filer said. The ecology students use a double-boiling method for greater control.
This recipe is the third they’ve tried, and Filer said the students have perfected it through trial-and-error.
“It works better than what you can buy in an actual store,” said Scott Wells, a junior in the ecology class.
The tubes of lip balm sell for $2, about a dollar less than similar products like Burt’s Bees. Marketing classes at the school designed the labels and came up with the “G-BEES” branding with which Filer’s students plan to market all of the hive-related products.
Ultimately, they hope to be able to harvest honey once the hive is better established.
Melvin, who worked on the lip balm as a student in both the ecology and marketing classes, said the entire process has made her realize all the effort that’s involved in launching a product.
“There’s a lot of work that goes into it,” she said.
Filer paid for the materials to make the lip balm and soap with proceeds from last fall’s pepper jelly sale, another classroom project that’s a joint effort between his students and the culinary arts department.
They’ve broken even on the lip balm so the profit will fund future projects involving the hive.
“One project feeds the other,” he said.
Because of the demand for the lip balm and other goods, the classes are considering selling outside of the Glenvar community, perhaps at a farmer’s market. It’s a good product for people who care about where the things they use and consume are made, junior Cole Anderson said.
“All of this is local, made right here in Glenvar,” he said. “You actually know where this is coming from.”