“In the end, we only conserve what we love, we only love what we understand, and we understand only what we are taught.”
Under the dabbled light of a subtropical forest, the sweet smell from coffee flowers entices one of java’s smallest customers: the honeybee.
Honeybees are attracted to coffee flowers for their sugary, high-quality nectar. According to recent studies, visits from pollinators have been shown to increase coffee yields by as much as 50%.
Although bees are not required to pollinate Coffea arabica plants, they are valued by coffee farmers for their positive impact on the crop uniformity and ability to create a great source of income through the sales of honey and combs.
Outside of the coffee fields and on our home soil, honeybees play a major role in the ecosystem and the economy. Currently 1/3 of the crops grown in America depend on pollinators to ensure a successful harvest, and bees are estimated to add more than $15 billion in value to our agricultural crops annually.
Unfortunately, these hardworking insects are under threat.
Over the last 20 years, there has been a noticeable and steady decline in the bee population. In 2016, the research group BeeInformed reported that 44% of its respondents saw a loss of their colonies. This staggering number means that almost half of hives being studied were lost completely – a disturbing trend that has continued since the 90s. Researchers have tied this loss to a number of factors including loss of plant diversity, increase in pesticides (specifically neonicotinoids), decrease in habitat, hive mites, and colony collapse disorder.
In the last decade, the outcry at this loss has resulted in initiatives to research the causes, address known factors in pollinator decline, and invest in solutions to address the issues. In 2015, the White House created a fully funded Pollinator Health Task Force that released their own pollinator plan to coordinate inter-agency partnerships to address the issue.
The Bee Cause Project
The National Coffee Association became involved when it selected the Bee Cause Project as one of their partners in the Coffee Gives Back Day of Service in Charleston, South Carolina.
Launched in 2013 by Ted Dennard, the Bee Cause Project is tackling the bee decline issue through education, experiential education, and empowerment. The non-profit is bringing the secret life of bees into classrooms and public spaces across the United States (and beyond) through their fully transparent observation hives in mini bee learning centers.
These fully functioning hives are not only increasing the honeybee population but also helping to reconnect youth and adults with the natural world while providing an engaging and unique tool for teaching STEM objectives. Considering bees never sleep and work until their wings fall off, these tiny creatures do an incredible job of instilling the value of hard-work, collective impact, and the importance every individual has in their community.
During the 2015 Annual Convention, NCA Members from across the US gave these hard working insects a helping hand with the Bee Cause Project by installing a Bee Sanctuary at the Middleton Place Organic Farm, complete with an observation hive for the public to visit. Since installation, the hive has provided hundreds of visitors from across the country with an inside look daily beehive life as well as showcasing bee friendly garden practices.
How You Can Help
As we gear up for fall gardening, creating a bee sanctuary (even if you don’t have a beehive) is a simple and fun way to help begin your journey as a bee ambassador.
- All pollinators love blooms, especially from native and non-hybridized plants. If you have been fighting clover in your lawn, think about embracing it for the bees! Make sure to plant a variety of flowers that bloom throughout the year so there is always nectar and pollen available.
- Consider cutting down on or eliminating the use of pesticides and herbicides, even if they are organic.
- Try adding a shallow birdbath filled with stones and clean water so bees have a safe place to land and hydrate.
Organizations like the Xerces Society and The Honey Bee Conservancy can help provide more fun and education resources to guide you on your journey. These small gestures can make a big difference in the lives of your native bees.
Regardless of where you live, bees are playing a role in the ecosystem around you. From the coffee trees thousands of miles away to the squash plants in the backyard, bees are working hard to pollinate the plants we eat and to create the honey that sweetens our lives. It is essential that we understand, appreciate, and protect these amazing creatures so future generations can depend on them as well.
In the wise words of conservationist Baba Dioum, “In the end, we only conserve what we love, we only love what we understand, and we understand only what we are taught.”
Infographic: Buzz From the Hive
Learn more about the Bee Cause Project.