by Elizabeth Theriault
Do you remember back in 2006 when the disappearance of bees was all over the headlines reporting millions of bees mysteriously disappearing? Bee keepers were reporting 30-90% of their hives vanishing. This mysterious epidemic was given an equally mysterious name called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). CCD is characterized by the disappearance of adult honey bees in a hive. The queen is often found alive in the hive but no honey bee bodies are left behind. Six years later there is still no answer as to what causes this devastating phenomenon. Pesticides, pathogens, parasites, management stressors, environmental stressors have all been named as potential culprits. Each year a third of our bees are dying. The United States is now importing bees from Australia to pollinate our crops. So what does this mean for our larger food system and why should we care?
Nearly one out of every three mouthfuls of food you eat has directly benefited from honey bee pollination. (USDA, 2012) To list just a few crops pollinated by bees: cucumbers, almonds, carrot seed, melons, apricots, cherries, pears, apples, prunes, plums, cantaloupe, seed onions, avocados, kiwi, blueberries, cranberries and more! Bees are directly related to our food markets and food system. Did you know that bee pollination annually is responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value? (USDA, 2012)
I spoke with local bee keeper Ed Safford to gain some insight into the connection between beekeeping and our food right here in the Rutland. Ed owns Right Mind Farm along with Yvonne Brunot. They farm vegetables on a 10 acre property in Wallingford adjacent to Otter Creek and have 3 bee yards with 6 hives total. Ed explained that he keeps the hives in different yards to prevent the spreading of diseases. Although there have been no reported cases of CCD in Vermont there are other disease and pests that bees are vulnerable to. Ed is in his 5th year of beekeeping.
When I asked Ed why he chose to become a beekeeper a wonderful smile gently formed on his face as he explained, “I guess I always thought they were interesting. We do our mixed veggie thing and the bees are just a natural fit. Bees are responsible for pollinating a third of all our food. Oh and you get honey off them for all their trouble!” Ed went on to explain “if you had a watermelon farm on one acre without bees it might yield 8-12,000 lbs. of watermelons a season but with bees that same acre could yield up to 70-90,000 lbs. of watermelon.” It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
Ed was kind enough to introduce me to two of his hives which were located right in Rutland city on a friend’s property. Ed explained that the urban setting is great for bees, the asphalt and buildings tend to keep the air a little warmer for the bees and there is less chance of exposure to pesticides which are normally sprayed in more agriculture areas. Also, bear attacks are less likely. We marched up a tiny knoll to the two colorful, stacked bee boxes and I stood behind Ed as he tenderly and steadily lifted the top of the box off the first hive. Slowly bees began to trickle out and float around us as if just to say hello and then bumble off to more interesting things like flowers full of nectar. Ed pulled out trays thick with combs weighed down with honey and wax, Ed handed me one and I was shocked by the weight. It was very peaceful and quiet minus the bees collective hum which after a while almost sounded more like a symphony rising up and down in a hypnotic fashion that left me feeling slightly dazed and amazed by the whole experience. I could now understand more fully the expression of awe and infatuation that Ed had on his face earlier when he spoke about getting into bee keeping. There was something absolutely magical about bees. Before I left I asked Ed what he thought about CCD and if he was worried about it affecting our food system. Ed responded, “If a third of all the cows in this nation suddenly died you can be sure that people would be doing something about it.” Take note, saving our bees is integral to saving our food and, ultimately, ourselves.
To learn more:
Watch: Vanishing of the Bees http://www.vanishingbees.com/
Read: A Spring Without Bees- How Colony Collapse Disorder has Endangered our Food Supply By, Michael Schaker
Buy Local Honey: Check out RAFFL’s Locally Grown Guide for a list of producers.
Originally published in the Rutland Herald.