It’s hard to believe an entire decade has already passed since beekeeper David Hackenberg first sounded the alarm on bee losses in what would became known as “Colony Collapse Disorder.” For five years, George Langworthy and I documented this phenomenon worldwide and eventually created the film Vanishing of the Bees, narrated by Ellen Page. The bees have opened my eyes to so many things, including the perils of our food supply.
Documentaries usually have a shelf life but I tell people that our film is still alive because the bees are unfortunately still dying. Today, the systemic pesticides involved in CCD, are not only killing honeybees, but also native bees, birds, butterflies, bats, and earthworms. They are in our waterways, soil, and brains. Generating billions of dollars for pharmaceutical companies, these nicotine-based neurotoxins – the most popularly used in the world— are now also ruining the Barrier Reef. Research finds these poisons damage sea urchin DNA and suppress the immune systems of crabs. To give you a sense of their harm, they’re now being compared to DDT.
Despite the continued devastation and fuzzy future of the Environmental Protection Agency under the Trump Administration, I’d argue that honeybees are on the forefront of our consciousness more than ever before. Much awareness has been raised since 2007.
“Urban beekeeping has taken off as a result of the bee crisis because people have a great concern and love for honeybees,” says co-director George Langworthy, who has been rescuing honey bee colonies threatened with extermination for the past seven years. “Beekeeping keeps me in direct contact with the natural world and gets me away from my computer. I like doing something tangible to help our ecosystem and the environment, and the honey is an added bonus.”
“[Today], becoming an urban beekeeper is the hip thing to do,” adds Paul Hekimian,
Director of HoneyLove, a non-profit conservation organization with a mission to protect the honeybees by educating the community and inspiring new urban beekeepers.
Rob and Chelsea McFarland were first inspired to create the nonprofit after watching Vanishing of the Bees. The husband and wife team, along with councilmembers Paul Koretz and Bill Rosendahl, were instrumental in getting Los Angeles City Council to unanimously approve a backyard beekeeping ordinance in October 2015. To date HoneyLove has hundreds of members.
Along with many other metropolises, Los Angeles legalization of beekeeping has allowed for a great number of colonies to thrive in the city and pollinate local ecosystems. Last I heard, honey bees were doing better in the cities than in the countryside due to the poisons in the monocultures.
And since bees pollinate one in every three bites of the (real) food we eat, Los Angeles has also seen a blossoming organic gardening and permaculture movement.
“The past decade has seen a massive shift towards food security through the simple paradigm-changing act of gardening,” explains Jill Volat founding director of the urban farming nonprofit, The Edible Apartment.
“‘Urban farming’ known a couple generations ago as Victory Gardening from post-WWII days, has had a resurgence in part due to economics and the rise of food deserts, but also because of an acute awareness – across all demographics – of the dangers of ingesting pesticide-treated, GMO commodities disguised as ‘food,’” says Volat, who also has her own edible garden design business for 12 years called The Farmista, and teaches at three school gardens.
Meanwhile, Volat has witnessed this firsthand with clients, who want to invest in their health through organic gardening at home, and in her nonprofit where donors and volunteers from across the world come together to build community-style urban farms. Clients are asking for hives on their property, or at the very least, requesting pollinator-friendly companion plants for their vegetable gardens.
Larry Santoyo, Program Director of The Permaculture Academy and Senior Planner of Earthflow Designs has also seen interest in urban “homesteading” and gardening triple over the past six to ten years. “As we start to understand the importance of biodiversity, homeowners and citizen groups everywhere are translating that into tending vegetables, fruit trees, mushrooms, fish, poultry, and bees in their home gardens.”
He believes the diversity that thousands of small-scale gardens offer is the best strategy for the health of bee colonies and the preservation of a wider variety of food plants – and of course offers better nutrition at the lowest cost.
One example of urban farming is HLP Farmhouse, a collective in Los Angeles with its heart centered in historic Highland Park. It invites community gathering and features experimental gardens, aquaponics, raised beds, vertical gardens, and container gardens utilizing materials that are upcycled and repurposed. Eventual services will include vacant lot remediation, teaching gardens, and design consulting.
“I hope to offer at-risk youth in Los Angeles the opportunity to reconnect to the land of their people and learn valuable farming skills to bring back to the city for viable income options,” explains founder Jennifer Train. She will be teaching sustainability and permaculture next spring at a local charter school.
Bees have been an integral part of this shift. These virgin sisters of toil have inspired people to take food into our own hands and invite them back into our yards and lives.
As we continue to feed and empower ourselves, let’s remember that everybody can make a difference. A single bee only produces about a quarter of a teaspoon of honey during her six-week life span. Think of the collaborative effort possible next time you spot a jar of honey. Each drop counts. Let’s continue to be the change we want to see.
Maryam Henein is the CoFounder of HoneyColony. Visit www.honeycolony.com.
This article is a part of the April / May 2017 issue of Whole Life Times.