Because I’m a writer, I tend to look for opportunities that can only be described as “experiences I can share with my daughter, but also write about.” Part education, part entertainment, part social and journalistic experiment. That sort of thing.
So it was with the “Vanishing of the Bees” movie trailer during National Honey Bee Day back in August (see the trailer below). In a shamelessly deliberate attempt to create one of these opportunities, I sat down with my 6-year-old in front of the laptop, clicked play, and watched with her as beekeepers and nature-loving academic types talked about colony collapse disorder, the mysterious phenomenon that is, quite literally, making honey bees vanish.
As you’d imagine, the trailer was compelling, the kind of teaser that tweaks heartstrings and makes you curse the travesty of industrial agriculture. (Well, aside from a very strange opening moment, in which an animated bee emerges from the mouth of a boy who may be sleeping or may be dead. It’s not clear. I must be missing the artistic point. Or something.)
My daughter knows her bees. She tracks them in action in the garden, has seen both demonstration hives and working hives, and watches rapt during “The Magic School Bus” episode where the kids turn into bees and busily gather nectar, pollinate plants and make honey.
She’s a bonafide flower lover, fruit and veggie eater, and honey worshipper who understands that bees make her sweet world go around. So when the trailer was over, I figured I’d give a little kid-friendly lesson on the agricultural and food crisis that will ensue if bees keep disappearing. I’d translate talk of pesticides and other toxins, use analogies, ask how she’d feel if — like bees in the traveling hives used for commercial pollination — her home kept moving. I’d be all teach-y and stuff.
But before I could ask what she thought, Tess looked me square in the eye and said: “If I were a bee, I’d leave, too. I’d find somewhere warm and safe and cozy with lots of flowers. And I’d stay there until they made the world better again.”
Then, for good measure: “And we should plant lots of flowers that bees like.” (You know, in case the bees want to live with us during their respite.)
To be fair, she’s heard all kinds of eco talk from us (OK, incessantly). And part of her comment echoed an expert in the trailer. But still. What struck me was that she delivered her conclusion without prompting. And that little triumph was proof to me that she’s getting it, that maybe all these “experiences I can share with my daughter, but also write about” are paying off (even the ones as contrived as watching a bee movie trailer on bee awareness day). Who knows? Maybe I’ve got a Birke Baehr in the making.
Here’s to kids and their amazing capacity for empathy and intellect. Greater, perhaps, than the so-called adults who make the decisions that got us in this pickle in the first place.
(Update on Oct. 8: A group of military and academic researchers on Tuesday published a paper claiming definitive answers on colony collapse disorder. Almost immediately, the skepticism began. Now comes this story questioning conflicts of interest and the legitimacy of the findings.)
What are your thoughts on bees? Smart kids? The power of tiny beings to do big things?
A version of this piece appears in my “Rooted” column in the September-October issue of the Upstate Gardeners’ Journal.
Copyright protected by Digiprove © 2011 Christina Le Beau
I have a beekeeper friend, so try to stay abreast of what’s happening. This summer the culprit was said to be pesticides. Then, I received this paper you linked to with another theory. Whatever is the reason for CCD, we are in BIG trouble if we lose bees. This is a really important issue that I wish more people would pay attention to. Thanks for writing about it.
“Go to the bee, thou poet: consider her ways and be wise.” -Shaw
It is really easy to keep bees, even in the city. I think Tess needs a hive of her own. I’d be happy to help get it set up. It will only cost you and Don a couple hundred bucks and a few bee stings…a small price to pay for a child’s happiness and education.
Mark, we’ve actually talked about that. And Tess would love it. Is there a better time of year to get started?
The spring really is the right time. However, it is not too early to start getting ready. There is a free class for new beekeepers. The dates are January 11th and 25th; February 8th and 22nd; and March 8th. The classes start at 630 pm and usually run to 8 or 830 pm. They are held at the Cornell Extension Service Building, 480 North Main Street, Canandaigua. If you are interested in attending please e-mail Sam Hall (firstname.lastname@example.org). That said, I’m always happy to help new bee keepers get started, so if you can’t make the class, there are still ways to get involved. As a side note, my 3 hives produced 150 pounds of honey this year, so there is good upside to beekeeping (not just stings).
Thanks, Mark. Not sure what we’ll do yet, but you’ve given me a great start. That is a lot of honey!
My daughter has been interested in bees lately and I talked about wanting to teach her about the fact that they are disappearing but my hubby thought we should try to keep things on the lighter side. She is 6 like your daughter. I’m happy to read your experiences with this very subject and right about now we’re going to press play on the video and watch the clip, as well as that magic school bus episode. Thanks for the links and as always linking up at Vegetarian Foodie Fridays!
Love that timing, Melodie. Would love to hear how it goes.
I think the video was over the top in dire predictions and projections indeed alarmist to the extreme!
The Honeybee is not native to the Western Hemisphere. Consider that the majority of what we eat in North America is from exclusively Western Hemisphere crops e.g. tomatoes, peppers, corn, squash, beans, potatoes, etc. As there were no Honeybees until Europeans brought them here how did the natives survive? Very well indeed! The population of NA was equivalent to Europe at that time and some think greater.
There are a whole raft of native pollinators that do their jobs sans all the hoopla e.g. Bumble Bees, Mason Bees, etc. Indeed we rely on Bumble Bees and other native pollinators to pollinate our tomatoes in the high tunnels as Honeybees will not enter.
This dissenting opinion is not to say that industrial agriculture is innocent in its activities harming water, soil, flora and fauna. My message however is that 99% of the pollinators have been overlooked. Consider that in the worst Honeybee decline in history our local apple harvest was excellent for several years running!
See the following for additional info:
Fascinating, Countryboy. Thanks for sharing. I wonder, then, why so much attention on the honey bee? I’ll have to read up on that some more.
I love the increased awareness to the pollination crisis.
We should consider the recent message that we have found the cause of colony collapse with the honeybees. We know potentially what has caused it, but do not know how to solve it. To know that you have cancer does not mean you can survive. Our concern should be a bit elevated when we realize we are dealing with an overbred and genetically weakened insect. The honeybee is a vital insect, but distressed.
I am working on a different path. Education of the backyard gardener to native pollinators. Much awareness has been placed on the mason bee, but to date there hasn’t been great instructions on what to do or how to be successful. Long efforts with ARS and commercial mason bee experts have helped produce a website that is helpful, easy to navigate, and informative for all ages.
In 5 years, I hope to have helped small business across the US to find, raise, manage, and then sell native pollinators to local orchards/crops. Native insects are typically robust and acclimated to their environment.
We can talk about the pollination crisis, but I believe it is more important to begin solving things now. It takes 5-7 years of raising mason bees before you can help a commercial orchard with their pollination.
By the way, there’s a great article that suggests there should be no Bayer controversy: http://bit.ly/adldwL 🙂 This altered my opinion.
Your work sounds really interesting, Dave. It makes sense that native bees — like native plants — are best-suited to today’s harsh climatic and agricultural conditions. Thanks also for the Washington State University link. I haven’t delved deeply enough into either the study or its analyses to form an opinion, but it’s clear there are still a lot of questions.