— by Hannah Lee
Do you know that a world without bees means a world without food? Farmers — from industrial to small-scale, artisanal ones- depend on these hard-working bees to pollinate the fruit trees. These tiny creatures are like the “canary in the coal mine” for agriculture and their recent episodes of Colony Collapse Disorder have concerned scientists and environmentalists as well as agriculturalists.
More after the jump.
Among my favorite vendors at the Headhouse Square Farmer’s Market, the largest in Philadelphia, is Toni Price, a retired English teacher whose husband, Steve, is the chief beekeeper and honey bottler, for their Busy Bee Farm located in Tabernacle, N.J.
Last year, their farm was awarded a Pollinator Habitat Grant from the New Jersey National Resource Conservation Service and the USDA. As a Master Gardener of Burlington County, Toni handles the care and use of the farm’s lavender and other herbs, as well as her flock of free-range pet chickens. She’d invited my family to visit during the lavender harvest, so I visited her on a hot, sunny day in early July.
Their 22 pastel-colored beehives are scattered on their property on the Pine Barrens, also known as the Pinelands, a heavily forested area of coastal plain stretching across southern New Jersey, according to Wikipedia. The Prices are now in Year Two of a three-year pollinator habitat grant: In Year One, they planted 35 trees and shrubs that are native to the Pine Barren. In Year Two, they are adding perennial flowers and shrubs; and in Year Three, they’ll add native grasses. They have sought out other federal sources of funding: an irrigation grant; a forestry grant, and a grant to build up to organic certification. The last one cited is to finance the construction of a deer fence — some 8′ to 10′ high — to protect the lavender. The soil is sandy, not loamy, in the Pine Barrens, and that affects which crops thrive there, such as asparagus, sweet potatoes, and blueberries. Their son’s friend is trying to grow organic hops on a corner of their property — hops are used in beer-making — and the 30-feet-tall decommissioned telephone poles used to stake the plants are a sight to behold.
Honeybees are not native to this country — they are actually from Africa — but the local bumblebees do not produce honey. If you wish to learn more about Colony-Collapse Disorder and the crucial role that honeybees play in American agriculture, do try to find a showing of Queen of the Sun, a documentary directed by Taggart Siegel that has collected numerous film-festival awards.
Some good news in beekeeping is the growing movement to appropriate unused land for beehives. One such example is at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport where “1.5 million bees now call the airport home.” Not only is it a “creative, sustainable, and productive way to use otherwise wasted open space,” the beehives also provide employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated adults. This movement has been growing in Germany since 1999 when “scientists realized honeybees could be helpful for monitoring air quality,” but O’Hare is the first American airport to get an apiary. In fact, “it’s a return to the airport’s agricultural roots,” since O’Hare was founded on a former apple orchard and that’s memorialized in the airport’s three-letter abbreviation, ORD. Now, that’s what I call a sweet story of synergy and it is a fitting message for the Jewish New Year.