Mission: Save the Bees is a mini series on YBC from Lauren Wotherspoon, our Marketing and Events Director. She introduced the series here, in case you need a refresher. I'm really excited about this series because I think it's so important, so I'll let her take it away!
In September I attended attended ShiftCon on behalf of YBC - it was at this conference that I found myself participating in a discussion panel lead by Tiffany Finck-Haynes. Tiffany is a Food Futures Campaigner for the Food and Technology Program at Friends of the Earth and gave us a super informative presentation that educated us on whats been happening to the bees in our very own backyards. Her panel covered everything from recent die-off reports to why this is happening and who’s responsible along with tips and tricks we can do to help save the bees. I'm so excited to be sharing all the eye-opening knowledge I gained from her and the rest of the team at FOE.
First lets go over bees quickly - there are about 25,000 different bee species around the world but only 4 of these species are honeybees: Micrapis, Megapis, Apis and the Africanized bee - of course they all have subspecies. The Apis mellifera is the most common domesticated species. Then you have bumblebees - they don't harvest honey but they play a big role in pollination because they're hairier and larger than the honeybee, allowing them to carry more pollen from flower to flower. They're actually responsible for something called "buzz pollination" because they vibrate so much when they fly that they essentially shake the pollen from one flower to another.
So what's happening to the bees and why are they so important, anyway? Starting in the mid 1990's beekeepers across the globe started noticing their colonies becoming smaller and smaller; this was not only happening during the winter months (which is fairly common) but also during the spring and summer months when the colonies are ordinarily thriving. Ordinary winter losses can be expected to be in the 5-10% range. But get this, Friends of the Earth reported that beekeepers across the US lost 40-100% of their hives last winter - one of the worst bee losses on record. Now that's something, in my opinion, that can't be ignored.
What beekeepers experienced was quite unusual back then - today that's not so much the case and has been coined with the term 'Colony Collapse Disorder' or otherwise known as CCD. CCD occurs when all of the worker bees suddenly abandon the hive, leaving the queen bee and immature bees to fend for themselves - never returning again. But even before CCD started becoming extremely apparent, some keepers started reporting odd behavior from their bees around the late 90's like not forging for pollen, laying less eggs, producing less honey and some unable to even fly or navigate home. In fact, since 2006, beekeepers have been experiencing an average loss of about 30% of their hives each year - some keepers lost their entire colonies putting their family farms (which have thrived for generations previously) out of business in what seems like overnight. Fun Fact: It's believed that the ancient Egyptians transported their hives along the Nile to pollinate crops.
I want you guys to meet Jay Williams. Jay is the proud owner of Williams Honey Farm in Tennessee and has decided to partner up with YBC on some exciting projects (if you ordered the holiday mantra box keep your eye out for not one but two outstanding products from them!) I was eager to see if he was experiencing what other beekeepers around the globe had been reporting. His confessions and insider knowledge shocked me. Part of what Jay had to say about CCD and his hives, "We have noticed a change in our bees. Simply put, they weren’t growing up as fast, they weren’t as active, and our queens just haven’t been as virile (having strength, energy, and a strong sex drive)... I think we’ll really know more over the next decade. We haven’t experienced the classic CCD behavior of entire colonies just disappearing (luckily)"
I'm not saying we should hit the panic button just yet but we should be concerned. Bees are essential in producing one out of every three bites of food we consume and they play a vital role in sustaining our ecosystems. In fact, 71 of the 100 crops that provide 90 percent of the world's food are pollinated by bees. Healthy bees hustle too! Bees from one hive can collect pollen from up to 100,000 flowering plants in a single day, pollinating them in the process. With numbers like that, we can't afford for our native bee population to get sick and even worse, disappear.
If we do the math, honeybees contribute nearly $20 billion to the US economy and $217 billion to the global economy. If you're more of a visual learner, take a look at what the produce section in your local grocery store would look like without bees pollinating our food.
Pretty crazy, right? If the whole visual thing doesn't do it for you, take a look at just some of the crops bees pollinate (there are around 400 in total):
- peaches, nectarines and tangerines
- lemons and limes
- raspberries and blackberries
- cashews, chestnuts, walnuts and macadamia nuts
- chili peppers, red/green and bell peppers
- black eyed peas
- lima, kidney, goa and green beans
If one of your favorite foods is on this list, you should consider becoming an activist for the bees because if our bees continue to die one of two things will probably happen: 1) these foods would become obsolete or 2) they'll become insanely expensive because they'd have to be hand pollinated by human laborers (humans won't work for free like the bees do!).
Oh, and remember what I said about bees playing an important role in the planet's ecosystems? Bees are responsible for pollinating plants that feed birds and other small animals with their seeds, fruits and berries - so they play a very vital role in not only our food but the entire planet's food chain as well. The flowers need the bees just as much as the bees need the flowers. While bees need the flowers for food, the flowers need the bees to reproduce.
With all of this coming to light, it kind of makes me wonder...what in the world could have possibly happened between the mid 90's and the year 2006 that could have caused such a tragic reaction to one of the worlds most important species?
If you're wondering the same thing, don't sweat it guys, you're in luck! In part three, we're going to talk about who and what's responsible and our friend Jay will be back to talk about his thoughts on contributing factors of CCD - I can't wait for you guys to hear what he has to say! So let us know if you're still on board to save the bees in the comments below, along with any questions you may have or any fun facts you want to share! Part three comes in a couple weeks, so be on the look out!
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