This Is How We Got Here
Pollinators around the world are dying at an alarming rate. Bees alone are responsible for producing over 67% of the food we eat and yet 30% -40% of our national bee population DIE EVERY YEAR. We agree it’s a problem - that’s why Harrisons Heathy Honeybees is more than just delicious honey. Its about the conservation of our Bees to pollinate our crops and protecting our food sources but to do this requires educating the world. Starting with our family and friends, the farmers we work with and of course - You!
So how did we get here, surely the bees didn’t just start falling out of the air!?
Well, in some ways they did. Beginning in 2006 Beekeepers experienced an alarming 45% complete loss of all hives. The bees either completely died or just disappeared. These types of losses were not attributed to any type of known disease or pest at the time so the term Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) was established.
Today we understand that Colony Collapse Disorder while alarming condition is not one that just appeared out of thin air. While scientists are still studying CCD, what we do know is that CCD is more like death by 1000 paper cuts for our Bee population. Today we know many factors play into the Pollinator decline epidemic. Honeybees in particular are threated by Varroa Mites, Pesticide Poisoning, Management Stresses, Inadequate Forage, and Loss of Habitat.
Many of the contributors on this list did not occur overnight and can be reversed by understanding how we got here. Let’s focus on those.
After WWII, Americas economy was booming, breakthroughs in technology and materials like chemicals, which were spurred by the war effort. People were prosperous and new life was forming: the American Dream. People were moving from rural communities to urban and suburban areas securing higher paying jobs and building new homes with white picket fences and green lawns. This substantial culture shift created a need to be able to move foods from farm to consumers who were now living in urban/suburban areas. Supermarkets and Grocery Stores with vast supply chains we created to fill this food access gap. At the same time with fewer people left to farm in rural communities and the wider markets, the farm experienced its own industrial revolution. New herbicides, pesticides, fungicides as well as new technology and equipment allowed farms to grow to thousands of acres while producing higher yields, with fewer people to run them. This system on paper looks like a win-win, right? The Farmer makes more money, people get higher paying jobs buying their version of the American Dream – what’s not to like!
Like most - too much of a good thing turns out to have consequences. Through this model of convenience, we have become disconnected from our food, where it comes from, how its produced and most importantly how it should taste and look! If you walked into a supermarket and went to the apple bin, what do you see? Shiny perfect apples without a single blemish. Now, picture there was a second bin with apples that were just as tasty, but the skin has marks and blemishes - not bruises but just surface scratches. Which apple would you choose? Of course, the perfect shiny apples! Our farmers know that the perfect apple gets chosen every time so if they want to sell their apples and make a living, they need to produce a flawless apple… EVERY TIME. If you’ve ever been to an apple orchard you would understand that this is a tall order. What you probably didn’t know, is in order for the farmer to produce your perfect apple they have to use a HUGE amount of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, because they know the supermarket shopper won’t buy apples that look like they were born on a farm (Pun intended). Now, before you go pointing fingers at your spouse, kids, dog or the farmer remember this has been a long time coming. The advertisements, marketing campaigns, food bloggers typically depict perfect foods! Subconsciously, our brains have been wired to value how food looks over how it tastes.
As this whole process has unfolded over the decades the consumer, (us) driven food demands has led to massive monoculture farms covering thousands and thousands of acres. Think of how many products use almonds now - what started as a simple nut you might find in a nut bowl at Christmas time has become a foundational ingredient for many. Almond Milk, Almond Butter, Smoked Almonds, Habanero Almonds, Almond Flour…. The list goes on. Don’t get me wrong I love almonds and their health benefits but when you look at how they are produced to try and supply our insatiable appetite for them you quickly realize our current process isn’t sustainable. In 2019, the almond trees in California accounted for 1,530,000 acres which is roughly the size of Delaware! It takes almost 100% of our national bee population to pollinate all of the almonds grown. Mind you, these are the same bees that pollinate the rest of the 67% of the food we eat as well. As you can imagine when you put this many bees in one place it becomes an epicenter for pandemics, diseases, and Parasites such as Varroa Mites.
As if all these things are not enough for our little winged friends those delicious almonds are of almost no nutritional value for the bees, leaving many to starve! However, almonds are not the only culprit. Many farms grow only a single crop just like almonds. This lack of biodiversity not only causes the bees to starve from inadequate forage but also begins to deplete the soil and natural bio deterrents which, you guessed it, leads to more pesticides, herbicides, fungicides.
Many areas across the United States have become food deserts for our honeybees. Besides our obsession with a green lawn, many former honey producing lands (such as the native prairies of the Dakotas), have been plowed under to make room for non-food crops like ethanol corn. From 2004-2012, 3.6 million acres went from pollinator buffets to pollinator deserts, providing zero nutrition to our Honeybees.
We got to this place slowly, by letting the world change around us and we didn’t stop to change it for the better. The good news is, WE CAN FIX IT! You don’t have start a Honeybee Farm to conserve, pollinate or educate, there are simple everyday actions we as consumers can do to change our habits that would allow our farmers to change their practices so that the land can be restored to what it was.
You can help the Pollinators! Here's a few ideas how:
Purchase local honey - this helps beekeepers keep the bees in natural areas and we won’t have to rely on pollination to finance Honeybee farms.
Ditch the lawn - lawn grass is not native to the United States and creates a food desert for our pollinators. Consider planting wildflowers, clover, or natural prairie grasses. As a bonus you won’t have to Mow or Water your lawn!
Be ok with less than perfect produce. That perfect apple in the supermarket requires a heavy amount of pesticides to produce. We as consumers need to be ok with blemishes on our fruit - the taste and texture will be the same and have less chemicals!
Buy from local farmers! This will help farmers transition from mono-culture farms to a bio-diverse poly-culture system where nature takes care of itself.
Host-a-Hive. We need space for our bees please consider hosting a hive to support the bees and in return, get your own honey!