A silent killer has been affecting our food system: The decline of pollinators. According to most available research, bees and other pollinator animals are disappearing due to a complex variety of factors including Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a global bee epidemic first identified in 2006. The cause is somewhat unclear, but experts have cited varroa mites, malnutrition, pesticides — including a new class called neonicotinoids--and even cellphones as possible causes.
If the problem persists, our food supply could be in serious jeopardy. Bees (both the honey and native varieties) pollinate seventy out of the top 100 human food crops, which supply nearly 90 percent of the world’s meals. In fact, the Apis mellifera (aka the Western honeybee) is responsible for 1 in every 3 mouthfuls we eat.
Indeed, bees are not only essential for pollinating the likes of almonds, apples, blueberries, cucumbers, and broccoli, but also for the reproduction of alfalfa and clover, which feed cattle and other grazing animals. No bees? Say goodbye to a significant portion of our milk, cheese, butter, yogurt and ice creams.
How does this affect your own personal food supply? We partnered with Cascadian Farm to explain.
1. Thanksgiving Dinner:
Without bees, the harvest will be a little less robust. There’d be no cranberries, brussel sprouts, squash, pumpkin or apple pie.
2. July 4th BBQ:
The Fourth of July evokes images of fireworks, the Star Spangled Banner, bug spray and barbecues. But if bees were extinct, there would be no watermelon, berries, or cucumber salad.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this piece stated that corn could disappear as a result of colony collapse disorder. The corn that appears in the photo above is actually not pollinated by bees, but rather by natural pollination. We regret the error.
3. Cinco De Mayo Fiesta:
We love celebrating the 5th of May, but our tortillas, rice, and beans would be incomplete without bee-pollinated avocados and tomatoes, peppers and cheese produced by alfalfa and clover munching cows (both bee pollinated plants).
4. Middle Eastern Lunch:
Vegetarians love to feast on the likes of middle eastern fare. But sans pollinators, most of the classical regional ingredients like eggplant, favas, kale, mint, parsley, and most nuts and spices would be conspicuously missing.
5. Italian Dinner:
From the tomato sauce to the vibrant veggies, Italian foods like pasta and pizza wouldn’t look like much without our precious pollinators. Don’t forget to also ditch most of the classic spices like basil and oregano as well!
6. Late Night Snack:
At the end of a long day—or even in the middle of one—nothing hits the spot better than chocolate, milk or a cup of coffee. But, without bees, we’d just have cookies to nurse us through tougher times.
The good news is that things might be getting better. Although nearly one out of four American honeybee colonies died this winter, that's considerably less than the previous year, or the eight year average of 30 percent losses.
Here are some ways you can help at home:
- Plant wildflowers, along with other flowering plants: strawberries, raspberries, snapdragons, carrots, daisies, asters, sunflowers, mint and lavender. Even if your only garden space is a flower pot on a balcony, a single sunflower in that flower pot creates habitat for pollinators.
- Don't use pesticides for cosmetic reasons in your landscape. Insects in your garden are the sign of a healthy ecosystem. In addition, Harvard University researchers have found that a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids may cause CCD, and a report from Greenpeace identifies seven priority bee-killer pesticides.
- Build nesting blocks for wild bees, and plant the host plants for butterflies such as milkweed for monarch butterflies to keep these insect heroes in your garden.
Bees have always been there for us; it’s time we do more to keep them alive and pollinating. Join Cascadian Farm's Bee Friendlier movement and do your part to help the bees!