For centuries human beings have found in bees the representation of positive values. Symbol of industriousness, ingenuity and generosity, in recent years, bees have become increasingly alarming sentinels of a balance that human beings themselves are threatening.
From Farms to Forest Lands- Each bee is a unique seed that has been sculpted through memories of inherited environmental experiences. Their stories have been formed over millennia with the power to nurture and adapt, and the magnificence to create life, food, and medicine for the world. As I’ve travelled to work with bees and their keepers, I’ve become more fascinated with the adaptability and plasticity of their genetic stories. We find bees on almost every continent, and in a diversity of climates and conditions. We can also see that these bees, depending on who is their keeper, are managed in distinct ways depending on their habitat and their available forage.
This presents a complex equation of: bees + their histories + environment + weather +beekeeper’s philosophy = what exactly?
Well, one answer is that this equation can help us to visualize the variables that go into who our bees are and their behavior. And this can help us figure out what we, as their keepers, could, should, and would do to keep them healthy, productive, and enduring. Our ability to observe and manage, reflect and respond, can also inspire us to help make particular selections on traits and locations.
Some of us become so inspired to begin tracking their behaviors, their characteristics and to begin selecting over time. Some of us become nurturers of these inherited memories, and assist in the propagation of these adaptations, helping to manifest the next generation of bees…as seeds. To do this, it comes down to another equation, a much simpler one in concept but a more difficult one in maintaining: bees + bees = bees…in other words, it takes bees to make bees. So how do we get bees? And how do we know if we are getting bees that are a good match for our distinct locations? These are questions that are intertwined with each other though one tends to be ignored more than the other.
If you too want to take a concrete action to ensure the survival of bees and biodiversity, take a moment to sign the European Citizens Initiative “Save Bees and Farmers”!
When we want bees, especially in an era where bees seem to be limited and experiencing increasing challenges, we try to find that we can afford while also balancing what we hope to accomplish. And sometimes, we may not necessarily recognize, nor remember the equations that must be resolved in order for us to procure bees. This is not just a situation that occurs in our state. It can happen to all aspiring and practicing beekeepers no matter where they are. Our desire to find bees can sometimes lead us on a hunt out of season, like trying to find fruit in the wrong season. We are in the age of global distribution- where finding and eating cherries during the winter in the northern hemisphere is easily accomplished by the importation of them from the southern hemisphere, where the seasons are reverse and harvested in a country experiencing their summer. And so it goes similarly with bees…trying to find them available when we think we need or want them.
When we think of where bees come from- we often think of the “Old World”- which includes Africa, Asia, and Europe. Bees are considered endemic to these regions though they all have a common ancestor- and they have adapted as they have dispersed and migrated. Whereas in regions where bees have been considered brought to, they are considered exotic. Regardless of where bees come from, they are in fact a part of our global ecosystems and planet. Their home is our home, and our home is theirs. It is also home to numerous other species. And each should have equal opportunity to thrive and survive, adapt, and establish.
Bees As Seeds is an experience. It is an invitation to witness something greater than ourselves but that which we are very much a part of. We have come from seeds, too. And we shall cast our seeds, just like the plants and the animals. Our efforts to establish and become a part of the landscapes we reside in, are just as much to credit for forming us and we are of being in these landscapes. We are one and the same with the bees. Everything is interconnected. And this means that how we steward, the choices we make, the money we spend, the projects we fund, all have an effect on one another. Let us make mindful choices that nurture our acclimated and adapted regional bees, our land practices, our outreach and our devotion to supporting biodiversity and to nurture the bond between sense of place, its gifts, and reciprocity.
Melanie Kirby is a professional beekeeper and queen honey bee breeder, interdisciplinary researcher, extension educator, international consultant, and journalist who has had the blessed opportunities to learn from and work with bees and their keepers from sea to shining sea and across the globe. She began keeping bees as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer and has spent the past two decades developing cross-cultural collaborations with numerous beekeepers, farmers and ag-focused organizations including Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, National Young Farmers Coalition, U.S.A.I.D., Slow Food, American Beekeeping Federation, Apimondia World Beekeeping Congress, and as a Fulbright-National Geographic Fellow. As a mixed-heritage, indigenous, and mestizo woman born and raised in Pueblo Native American Indian country, her experiences as a first-generation beekeeper based in the Rocky Mountains has exposed her to the challenges facing emerging professionals of diverse demographics, and the need to help build the bridge between the field and academia. In addition to breeding regionally-fortified bees, she is a writer, an artist, a mother, and serves as the Extension Educator at the Institute of American Indian Arts based in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
This article is being released in support of the awareness campaign around Slow Food’s position paper If biodiversity is alive, so is the planet, which stresses the main challenges our planet faces and presents possible solutions. Every month leading up to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, we will be touching upon a different aspect of wild and domestic biodiversity, from seas to soil, and how these are all intrinsically linked to the way we eat and organize our societies.