Just before the pandemic closed down public life, GloryBee’s SAVE the BEE Initiative hosted two screenings of the award winning documentary film The Pollinators. Directed by beekeeper and cinematographer Peter Nelson, the film provides an unusual glimpse into the commercial migratory bee industry in the US, an industry that is “indispensable to the feeding of America.”
As we watched tens of billions of bees being transported back and forth from one end of the country to the other, it became apparent how the migratory life of moving hives from one monoculture to the next is taking its toll on bees and beekeepers alike.
When it comes to pollination, honey bees have become the heavy lifters in US agriculture. Without their services we would not have many of the nuts, fruits and vegetables we take for granted, in the volumes that we are accustomed to. (Think almonds, orchard fruits, avocados, broccoli, blueberries and cranberries to name a few.) It is the saddest of ironies, the fact that we are able to manage honey bees and move them around has allowed us to develop our current monoculture system, which in the end, is not serving the bees.
Not that moving bees is inherently bad. Bees are often moved to protect them from harsh weather and to offer them nectar options when there is a dearth at home. And without the income from pollination services, most commercial beekeepers would not be able to make a living because commodity honey prices are at an all-time low.
However, the pervasive use of pesticides and loss of foraging habitat associated with monoculture growing methods have impacted honey bee health and nutrition, which in turn, make them more susceptible to parasites and disease.
The beekeepers, farmers, scientists and activists interviewed in The Pollinators all emphasize the importance of bees not only for the survival of agriculture but also as an indicator species. If we think of bees as a living, breathing gauge of the state of our environment – we are in the red zone.
The answers are straight forward enough. We need to change the way we grow our food. Fewer monocultures and more crop diversity. Fewer pesticides and more thriving soils. More mowing and less tilling. And big farm or little farm, all can create hedgerows with more diverse floral resources for pollinators, be they native bees or honey bees.
Regenerative agriculture is on the rise. We can support it by changing the way we eat. More local and fresh, less processed from afar. More organic and fewer GMOs. Greater vegetable diversity with more heirloom varieties and less of the same old hybrids.
Give pause to reflect on what you eat, and what pollinators add to your world. And the next time you are looking for honey, pick the local jar, and pay a premium price for it.