Saving the Honey Bee From Extinction
A teaspoon in tea, some drizzled over a biscuit, a nice glaze for a piece of fish. When you think honey, you probably don’t think about the declining bee population and the extreme loss of honey bee hives over the past decade. But according to the USDA, honey bees and their hives are at risk of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD): “A serious problem threatening the health of honey bees and the economic stability of commercial beekeeping and pollination operations in the United States.”
Not only are honey bees responsible for keeping scones sweet, their pollination is responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value each year. According to the USDA, “About one mouthful in three in our diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination. Commercial production of many specialty crops like almonds and other tree nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables are dependent on [being] pollinated by honey bees. These are the foods that give our diet diversity, flavor, and nutrition.”
Though beekeepers expect a normal 2 to 10 percent loss of bees each year, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the USDA’s Iresearch agency, has been observing losses in the upwards of 30-90 percent since 2006.
Because farmers and local businesses are especially feeling the repercussions of the loss of honey bees, many are joining together to make a difference and starting “adoptive bee parent” programs and “rent a hive” programs. Programs vary, city to city, nation to nation, but are intended to help support and sustain healthy bee colonies.
Those interested in “adopting a bee,” essentially agree to make a donation to an organization to maintain part or all of a hive. The program “Adopt A Beehive,” based in Australia, requires an establishment fee whereas the “Adopt a Honeybee,” U.S.-based, only requires a one time money donation from “adoptive parents.” Most programs present adoptees with a certificate of ownership, periodic updates on the hives, bees, and beekeepers, and even honey, if you’re lucky.
The concept for the “Rent a Hive” programs is very simple: rent-a-hive parents volunteer their land for a colony of bees to live, feed, and produce healthy hives and honey. In exchange, the “parents” receive the pollination the bees provide (and often the bees’ honey, if the organization is willing to share). Usually, the organization is responsible for all the upkeep of the bees and everything is managed and provided by trained beekeepers. There is very little risk involved, because the organizations train rent-a-hive parents on the basics of beekeeping and most colonies are away from where people socialize on a regular basis.
Celebrities are even joining in the action to help spread the awareness about CCD, encourage the use of honey, and even encourage people to become adoptive bee parents.
Celebrity Chef Ming Tsai joined up with a beekeeper in Northern California to learn more about the world of honey bees. On his Food Network show, Ming’s Quest, Ming learns how to extract honey from the hive and uses the ingredient to make a Mustard-Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Grilled Vegetables
In Hawaii, one of the 12 chefs responsible for co-founding the Hawaiian Regional Cuisine, Chef Alan Wong, teamed up with UH Hilo in 2011 to launched the Adopt-a-Beehive with Alan Wong program: “This innovative program supports the education of student beekeepers, promotes research and development of healthy beehive practices in Hawaii, and educates the public about the vital role that honey bees play in sustaining agriculture.”
For some celebrities, it is less about directly supporting the bees and more about the indirect public education about bees. On the show Glutton for Punishment, host Bob Blumer spends four days learning about the secret art of beekeeping before he, “enters the Beekeepers Games, a series of bee-themed events that will force him to confront one of his deepest phobias: Bees!
Beekeepers highly encourage any sort of education about bees and many hold workshops and seminars about bees and how individuals can protect them through lifestyle changes.
For those unable to adopt or host a colony of bees, there are other steps to help protect honey bees and the valuable work they do:
Avoid Toxic Pesticides, Herbicides, and Fungicides. Instead, use certified organic and natural products.
Grow a Garden that Attracts Bees. Choose plants with nectar and pollen that the bees will love. This will encourage the bees to continue pollinating all the way to your food crops.
Buy Local Honey. Not only will you support small beekeepers and help them maintain hives, local honey can also help with seasonal allergies.
Though for many it is hard to comprehend what it would be like without one-third of our food--the amount affected by the work honey bees do--it is simple to think about the small things, like what is grown in our backyards. To get connected with an adopt a bee program, rent a bee program, or to learn more about beekeepers and beekeeping workshops, connect with the local honey vendor at your town farmers market and check out these websites for programs worldwide:
Margaret Olson is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.