This article was first published on Oxfam’s 3Things website on 23 September 2013. It was written for Oxfam’s GROW campaign, which creates awareness of the changes needed to fix the broken food system. “Sustain the Planet” is the final of six steps to creating a better food system. Read my previous GROW method blogs here.
Three lessons we can learn from bees to fix the broken food system.
“One can no more approach people without love than one can approach bees without care. Such is the quality of bees.” – Leo Tolstoy
If you haven’t already heard, bees are having a rough time internationally. There’s been a dramatic reduction in bee populations with enormous losses due to factors such as urbanisation, pesticide use, Colony Collapse Disorder, and the Varroa mites.
Although Australia is the last continent free of these destroyers, we’re nevertheless seeing a reduction in bee numbers and it may be only a matter of time before Varroas hit our shores.
Luckily local beekeeper, Doug Purdie, understood the necessity of protecting local bee populations when he co-founded The Urban Beehive to support the honeybees in pollinating food and maintaining biodiversity. They’re the guys who put beehives in backyards, community gardens and rooftops across the city.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Doug and some of his girls (the bees) in Bondi’s community garden to chat about what we can do to keep our bees buzzing. What stuck out about our chat were the lessons bees can teach us to successfully fix the broken food system, rather than just what we can do for them. Here are three.
1. Share the love: unite
Doug says that the bees’ “whole social structure… is fascinating.” They’re social creatures who support biodiversity and make a necessary impact on our world through pollination. Although we cannot pollinate, we can take a lesson or two from bees in adapting, swarming together and cooperating with members of our society to help out, beyond our hive, to sustain the planet, part of which means sharing our space with bees. For anyone who doesn’t want to share the love, don’t be afraid. Doug says that bees aren’t interested in attacking you unless you’re considered a threat. It’s all about mutual respect
2. Communicate and work as a team
Bees work as a team to get the job done right. Every bee has their role – even the drones do – and our survival, in both the process of fixing the broken food system and the creation of greater food security, must come hand in hand with good communication and team work. Let’s do the waggle dance!
3. Work efficiently
You’ve heard of the saying: make hay while the sun shines! That’s just what working bees have to do. They have short, busy lives (in perfectly organised colonies, doing critically important work), only living about six to seven weeks, sometimes up to six months. Imagine if our lives were that short? Then we might start making haste. There’s no better time than the present to create a better food future (and, possibly, to also stop using bad clichés).
Starting to stick
With the growing popularity of urban beekeeping, the awareness of the issues facing bees and the increased interest in sustainability and localism, Doug says “people are starting to get it.” Who doesn’t love honey, anyway! Do you?
Get involved in protecting our honeybees
To protect our beautiful bees, there are four things we can do:
- Create awareness of our bees and keep informed (think before you swat)
- ‘Bee’ friendly by planting gardens and wildflowers and discontinuing your use of insecticides and pesticides (think before you spray)
- Support local and organic farmers and beekeepers who believe in slow food and feeding the bees as nature intended: without pesticides (think before you buy)
- Get a hive in your backyard with The Urban Beehive (read the buzz)
At the risk of repeating myself, why not ‘bee’ proactive with this important species and stay calm, not alarmed. While it’s not all good news, it’s not catastrophic and we have just learned four important ways we can all help. Bees are a vital part of our world, so let’s keep them buzzing!
Where do your local urban beekeepers have their hives?