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Want to stregnthen your local food system? Bring the bees!

June 19, 2012

The role of bees in our food supply cannot be overstated. According to entomologists, more than one-third of the world’s crop species such as alfalfa seed, sunflower, and numerous fruits and vegetables depend on bee pollination. Nationally, the value of crops dependent on pollination is approximately $19B.

Dr. Marla Spivak, McKnight Professor of Apiculture and Social Insects with the Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota recently spoke about the importance and plight of bees as pollinators. Using breakfast as an example, Spivak presented a picture of fresh fruit, eggs, juice, cereal with nuts, toast with jam, and coffee with milk; another with eggs, plain toast, and black coffee. What would you choose – the breakfast with or without bees?

Since 2006, when an unexplainable phenomenon caused whole colonies of bees to die off, “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD) got wide-spread press.  Spivak says entomologists now believe the disorder is the result of a “confluence of factors” that stress bees and make them more vulnerable. These factors include: loss of habitat (source of pollen and nectar) resulting in poor nutrition; wide-spread use of pesticides; and disease. More bees are dying where there is a lot of agriculture intensity.

Conscientious about turning the “bee bummer talk” around, Spivak shared her ideas to “keep bees healthy and standing on their own six feet.” The Bee Lab is a resource hub for bee keepers and others concerned about the population of pollinators. You can learn about the “bee squad” a group of trained bee workers committed to offering assistance and training to Twin City area bee keepers, and will even manage bees for property owners who want to encourage bees, but do not want to do the work. Another dream of Spivak’s is to establish a Bee Center – combining research, public display and educational space, and bee-friendly flower gardens.

Minnesota is the third largest honey producer behind North Dakota and South Dakota. Spivak encourages us to plant more habitat for bees, and for the strong-willed, letting creeping Charlie thrive.  She said the Xerces Society is a good source of information for native plants in your area that benefit bees. Their “Bring Back the Pollinators” program promotes four principles: grow pollinator-friendly flowers, provide nest sites, avoid pesticides, and spread the word. Visit She also encouraged us to build bee nests or houses (see resources below).

Watch this brief video for a nice introduction to Dr. Spivak and her work.  To learn more about the bee squad, the bee center and how you can support Dr. Spivak’s work and the bee population in Minnesota, click here.

For additional information Dr. Spivak and bees visit:

U of M Moment: “Queen Bee” discusses honeybee’s plight

Building bee houses…

Dr. Spivak’s talk, Bees and Pollination, was sponsored by The Minnesota Project and Bachman’s.

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