Bee the change, Eagle County
VAIL CO, Colorado
Honeybee populations around the world have dropped mysteriously by 30 percent a year for the past four years, and if the trend continues, you can kiss good-bye apples, broccoli, watermelon, onions, avocados, almonds and cherries.
These are just a few of the hundred or so tasty flowering crops these complex fuzzy insects pollinate. Without bees taking pollen from one cherry tree to another cherry tree, there are no cherries. Without honeybees, our diet is bleak as prison food appears to be in the movies.
One-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Here’s another way to think about it:
“What a lot of people don’t realize is one out of three bites of food they stick in their mouth, these honeybees put on their dinner plate,” beekeeper David Hackenberg says in the documentary “Vanishing of the Bees.”
On Thursday, in celebration of Earth Day, the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability and Slow Food Vail Valley presents a screening of “Vanishing of the Bees” at Loaded Joe’s in Avon at 6 p.m. Local beekeepers Mike and Ann Luark will be there to answer questions (and if the harvest is ripe) to sell honey.
“Vanishing of the Bees” follows commercial beekeepers Hackenberg, quoted above, and Dave Mendes as they strive to keep their bees healthy and fulfill pollination contracts across the U.S. The film explores the struggles they face as the two friends plead their case on Capital Hill and travel across the Pacific Ocean in the quest to protect their honeybees from Colony Collapse Disorder – the name given to the mysterious and rapid loss of the adult bee population. Filming across the U.S., in Europe, Australia and Asia, this documentary examines Colony Collapse Disorder and the greater meaning it holds about the relationship between man and mother earth.
It was the mystery of the bees’ alarming disappearance that initially attracted filmmakers George Langworthy and Maryam Henein to the story.
“We found out about the story early on when it started to break in 2007. Bees were vanishing from hives, and no one knew why. Scientists were baffled. Everyone was left scratching their heads,” Langworthy says. “As we learned more about how important bees were, it became a greater reflection of the bigger issues. Not too long after realizing it was such a vital story, we basically left our day jobs and set out on faith and credit cards because it was such a very important film to make.”
Langworthy is talking about the big-picture issues surrounding the problematic ways in which the U.S. is currently producing food, specifically how our country uses pesticides to grow as much food as possible and as cheaply as possible without concern for quality or the health of the environment and its inhabitants. Italy, France and Germany have banned some of the pesticides suspected for causing Colony Collapse Disorder.
“Bees have been long considered messengers, even back in ancient Greek society,” Langworthy says. “Bees are key-link species, they reflect the overall health of our ecology. And their collapse is an indication of a greater problem.”
Unlike climate change, where there is a camp of people who doubt it’s actually happening, everyone Langworthy has spoken with, he says, regardless of political affiliation, realizes the bees are disappearing. However, there are a couple different theories to explain the cause.
Langworthy and most of the people in his film believe systemic pesticides are at the root of Colony Collapse Disorder. Systemic pesticides work from the inside out of a plant. Plants absorb the chemical, which renders its parts, the roots, stem and leaves, poisonous to invading organisms including, studies suspect, the honeybee.
“There is a lot of indication, new studies by the USDA and even from the EPA’s own scientist, to support systemic pesticides are the root cause of the problem, but it’s also one of things that clouds the issue,” Langworthy says.
Systemic pesticides weaken the immune system of the bees and their colony, Langworthy says, and then when their immunity is down they die from another cause, like parasites, viruses or bacteria, making it extremely difficult to pinpoint the exact cause. Systemic pesticides are used on just about everything from lawns to flea collars to the plants at Home Depot.
Local beekeeper Ann Luark calls this synchronized attack on the bees “the perfect storm,” and she too thinks Colony Collapse Disorder is due to a multitude of factors, starting with the use of pesticides.
“It’s hard to put your finger on it and prove it, but it is not necessarily better living through chemistry,” she says.
She and her husband Mike, who has worked as a beekeeper for 40 years, raise cattle and bees on their Quarter Circle L Ranch, located on the Colorado River Road just a short distance above Sweetwater Creek. This year Eagle County Conservation District recognized the Luarks as conservationists of the year. Locally, their hives are placed around various locations, including near Eagle, Gypsum, Burns, and Yampa, but their bees are responsible for pollinating peach trees in Palisade as well as almond trees in California. The Luarks will attend Thursday night’s screening of “Vanishing of the Bees.”
Like most beekeepers, the Luarks have experienced Colony Collapse Disorder.
“Generally, you look into the hive and you get the feeling that everybody is feeling woozy, literally like a vibe from them that they don’t really feel great,” Ann says. “They’re buzzing around, they like to go flying, but they’re like us, they kind of feel under the weather and they can’t put their finger on why.”
Ann says even in “little Grand Junction” farmers are using big bad chemicals, like Gaucho, one of the pesticides banned by Italy, France and Germany. She says the best thing to do, if you have access to a food grower, ask him what he’s spraying.
“Vanishing of the Bees” Web site (www.vanishingbees.com) lists four actions people can take to help the bees, including planting a bee-attracting garden, beekeeping, buying organic and using holistic pesticides. Langworthy says it’s more than a movie, it’s a movement.
So if you care about eating, see the film and spread the word.
Cassie Pence is a freelance writer based in Vail. She’ll be at “Vanishing of the Bees” with her stinger on.