By Amelia Wyatt
BEES – arguably nature’s greatest pollinators, responsible for one third of our global food supply, and generally, one of the most overlooked facets of the ecosystem. Bees are an indispensable natural resource, as local bee keeper Paul Edmunds can tell you. Paul Edmunds has been bee-keeping on and off for roughly 30 years. During this time, he’s come to know critical value of bees in our ecosystem. “Yes, [the bees are] incredibly important… without them, I’m not sure how long we’d last”. But don’t just take his word for it – the science backs him up. As mentioned previously, bees are responsible for roughly one third to two thirds of the global food supply, varying from study to study. The NRDC estimates that bees provide about 15 billion dollars annually for agriculture in the United States alone. To an almost unbelievable degree, the vast majority of our food supply is reliant on the bees’ pollination. In fact, almonds, apples, apricots, avocados, blueberries, cantaloupes, cashews, coffee, cranberries, cucumbers, eggplants, grapes, kiwis, mangoes, onions, okra, peaches, pears, peppers, strawberries, tangerines, walnuts and watermelons are all reliant on bees. Additionally, if it weren’t for bees, meat and dairy would largely decline, due to a drastic decrease in alfalfa hay, which is used to feed dairy cows. Needless to say, bees are hugely important – not only for food supply, but also for the larger ecosystem.
But unfortunately for us, bees are on the decline.
In the United States alone, more than 25 percent of all managed honey populations have disappeared since 1990, with honey bees particularly affected by this decline, as an average of 30% of all honey bee colonies have disappeared every winter since 2007. This loss is about twice as high as what beekeepers consider “economically tolerable”. Other countries have fared only nominally better; in the winter of 2012 – 2013, roughly 29% of all Canadian bee colonies and 20% of European bee colonies have disappeared as well. This rapid decline is largely due to human interference, such as climate change, pesticides (specifically in agriculture), habitat loss, and global trade leading to an infestation of parasites in bee colonies.
While all these statistics may seem bleak, fear not. It is not too late. There is still a lot we can do to protect the bees, even on a local level. For example, try planting a garden, especially a garden with many pollen-rich flowers. If you feel you don’t have enough room at your home, Davidson has a community garden right behind Fuel Pizza where you can get involved, and even a small pot of flowers on the porch will help. Additionally, try to buy your produce as local and as pesticide-free (aka organic) as possible. This will help by incentivizing companies to grow crops without harmful pesticides. In terms of pest control, if there’s a bee hive burrowing in unwanted places, instead of killing hives off completely with pesticides/exterminators, try calling a local bee keeper to remove the hive of bees without killing them. Marigolds are a great alternative to pesticides as they are a natural bug repellant, as well as a great source of pollen for bees. On a Congressional level, try voting for members of both local and federal government who show an active interest in environmental topics. Call your elected officials on behalf of environmental issues, sign petitions on behalf of bees and related issues, and generally, just try to stay actively involved with government on any level. If you are really interested, you could even take up bee-keeping for yourself, as Paul Edmunds would certainly recommend. “It [beekeeping] puts me back in touch with nature. You know, if you sit in an office all day you don’t realize that all that stuff [the cycles of nature] is going on. But when you have bees, you pay attention to the weather and what things are blooming and general environmental conditions… It’s really good for that.”
When it comes down to it, caring for bees is caring for yourself, as they are so consequential in our environment and our produce. As renowned entomologist Marla Spivak put it best, “Anyone who cares about the health of the planet, for now and for generations to come, needs to answer this wake-up call [about bees]”.