Of Bees and Bargains

Hive Alive, painting by Linda Jane Schmid

Well, here is the first post-Plenty post to the Journal.  I’m going to continue to add to the Culinary Goods page – not entirely sure how it will evolve but it is likely to be more personal yet still focused on food and sustainability.  If you are receiving this by e-mail (as opposed to viewing it on the www.culinarygoods.ca page) please remember that you can stop receiving the e-mails at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link below.

I recently travelled back to Saskatchewan with my Dad (I’ll post photos of Plenty, Stranraer,and the Saskatoon Public Market in another post) and while in Saskatoon attended a documentary about Bees at the Broadway Theatre.  Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? looks into the global honeybee crisis. From the catastrophic disappearance of bees and the mysterious world of the beehive it highlights the struggles of beekeepers, scientists and philosophers from around the world and includes commentary by Michael Pollan, Gunther Hauk and Vandana Shiva.

It was a good documentary but I think David Suzuki’s Nature of Things To Bee or Not to Bee (watch it on-line) episode captures the gravity of the situation better and manages to cover the same material in greater depth.  Both documentary’s show the numerous stresses that bees face today – from the use of chemical pesticides, to viruses, to the loss of natural bee habitats.

…the role that bees play in nature simply cannot be overstated – they pollinate many of the food crops that we depend on. A world without bees would be unrecognizable since they also pollinate many of the plants and trees in our gardens, forests and meadows.

It is clear that the way that domestic honey bees are treated (such as the transportation of bees across the continent to pollinate almond crops every Spring in California) is part of the problem. However, the loss of wild bee species tells us that there is something larger happening as well.  We’ve lost our affinity for nature and perhaps because of that we fail to equate the health of the environment with our own health.  We are destroying habitat and spreading pesticides through the environment at our own peril.  The loss of bees represents a horrific intrinsic loss – we are destroying the grandeur of the planet and its organisms – but also we are destroying the ability of the planet to support us.

Conventional agriculture is like a Faustian bargain – I am not sure that we are trading our souls for those cheep grapes but certainly our health and that of our planet.  The next time you are considering whether to purchase organic or conventional produce think of the bees and reach for the organic.  When seen in the light of the true costs of conventional agriculture – loss of species, soil degradation, pollution, the appalling treatment of agricultural workers… (and the list goes on; if in doubt consider the impact of just one conventionally grown crop: tomatoes) – organic is an incredible value indeed.

Since returning home I’ve come across some encouraging local initiatives regarding bees.  I was at the Empress last week and noticed a white picket fence bisecting part of the lower garden there.  I walked down to have have a look and was surprised to see ten hives behind the fence.  You must stop by to hear the wonderful buzz of 400,000 honey bees who will forage the Empress’ gardens and look for blossoms throughout downtown!  They are expected to produce over 1,000 pounds of honey which will be featured in the hotel’s restaurants.

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from the Wayward School about a Natural Beekeeping workshop that occurs tomorrow.  Learn how to introduce bees to your own backyard.  When our kids are a bit older I hope to add honey bees to our yard – until then we hope that Mason Bees will make a home in the new box on our shed.

Natural Beekeeping

Instructor: Javan Kerby Bernakevitch
Date: Saturday, June 18th
Time: 10:00 am – 1:00 pm (plus follow-up field trip from 1-3 pm)
Location: 1337 Vining Street (backyard of residence)
Workshop Cost: $10 (free for members!)The Wayward School is…

… a co-operative school of thoughts and actions … a series of thematically organized lectures, workshops, and gatherings in Victoria, BC … a de-centralized network of thinkers, makers, doers in Victoria and beyond … a hyphenated happenstance … what you make of it.

Thanks to Linda Jane for the use of the image at the top of this post – click here to view more of her Bee series paintings.