Friday, 27 May 2011

The Birds and the Bees and the Flowers and the Trees: Messages from Pollinators

Last night my family and I went to see the documentary "Queen of the Sun".

No doubt you've heard all about "colony collapse disorder". There are many theories about its causes, but in reality, the causes are likely to be both diverse and related. Obviously, monoculture farming is not natural or bee-friendly. Nor are GMOs, pesticides, and even possibly cell phones. While the corporate giants fight to deny responsibility, the problem still remains.

What stands out in my mind is that honey bees are symbolic of the things we've lost touch with as a society. Take one bee away from her hive-mates and even if you feed and nurture her, without contact with those hive-mates, she will die. Likewise, there is a life-and-death connection between bees and the plants they pollinate. When considering honey bees, it is the hive rather than the individual that makes the whole; and that whole again can only be considered along with its partnership with the plants it pollinates.

Then, consider the herbivores who depend on those plants. And the carnivores who depend on those herbivores. Whatever you eat, whether vegan, vegetarian or omni, about 2/3 of your diet comes either directly or indirectly from foods pollinated by bees.

All can thank the hive of bees for their continued existence.

But we have lost sight of these basic interactions, and have chosen both consciously and subconsciously to replace our relationships and understandings of these with abstractions that distance us from the nature we depend upon for our own survival.

Can you tell the difference between a honey bee and a yellow jacket? A solitary native bee vs. a European honey bee? When you think of bees, do you picture honey and bee-stings?

The loss of as much as 90% of the bee population in some areas is an alarm for us. It is time to start moving in sustainable directions, particularly when it comes to agriculture. Taking shortcuts in order to build high-yield corporate farms is not a viable solution. Nature does not use monoculture. Nature also allows for competition in order to strengthen species.

Our Obsession with Monoculture

Before lawn pesticides were severely restricted in our area, we voluntarily chose not to use them. We also chose to let our lawn go dormant over dry spells rather than waste municipal water on it. The only help we gave it at all was aerating ever other year, and adding a little homemade compost, low-maintenance seed and a little white clover seed once. During the first year, our lawn had quite a few dandelions and some crabgrass. We dug some out, but weren't particularly studious about it. After the second year, we were able to get away with mowing it every 2 weeks in the spring and every 3 weeks over the summer and fall months (this allowed it to grow to up to about 5" maximum). As the clover appeared, the bluegrass died out and more hardy fescues took over. By the third year we had no more dandelions than anyone else on the street. There were at least 5 different varieties of grasses along with the clover, yet it was still a lawn.

I know there are still better choices for yards and ground covers, but even black-thumbed time-challenged types like us were able to get past the bluegrass monoculture.

When disease strikes, a region with a great diversity of life is much better able to cope and not only survive, but flourish than an area with little or no diversity. The strength and health of the region lies in its diversity both in terms of genetic diversity within a species, and also in species diversity. 

Just as nature prefers variety, so should we. Our mono-culture mentality goes much further than endless fields of GMO corn. We embrace standardized "everything": from healthcare to education to consumerism. Over the past twenty years, our schools have become a battleground between those who value creativity and individualsm vs. those who want standardization. We have turned industry, agriculture, healthcare and now education into factories that spew out an "average" product. In doing so, we miss many fantastic opportunities along the way.

Our true value is in our uniqueness. We need to open our eyes and our minds to the possibilities that lie just outside our realm of expectation.