Wednesday, May 26, 2010

For the want of a nail...

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting sponsored by SUNY Oswego’s RSVP program on Bee Keeping. The presentation was conducted by two former staff members of SUNY Oswego, who in their retirement have turned to Bee Keeping as both a hobby and an educational endeavor. Although I thought I knew a bit about bees, the program was exceptionally informative and consistent with the permaculture thread I said that I would pursue in the next few installments of this blog.

Consider for example, the following: could anyone build a bee, let alone program thousands to act in harmony as a hive? These small creatures, like other social insects, live incredibly complex lives, with both genetically determined and socially prescribed roles. Through some mystery (pheromones?) they communicate complex information with each other, leading to the sustained, collaborative production of honey, their brood, and the perpetuation of their colony.

Without bees and other pollinators, many plants would be unable to reproduce. The “miracle” of agribusiness and large scale crop production would cease. No amount of GMOs, or mechanization can replace this small, but fundamental role:

Honeybees are predominantly responsible for the pollination (and thus reproduction) of nearly 100 commonly consumed crops — roughly one-third of the U.S.’ agricultural production. Honeybees pollinate all the heart-healthy and cancer-preventing foods that the USDA, physicians and our health-conscious friends have finally convinced us to eat and love.

‘The USDA recognizes that the honeybee is the backbone of America’s agricultural system,’ explains Gloria Degrandi-Hoffman, a leading bee researcher for the USDA.

Honeybees pollinate crops like almonds, berries, apples, cantaloupe and cucumbers. Oh yeah, and honeybees make honey!” (from

While pollination occurs for many farms only during the bloom of plants, at organic farms apiaries are often set up long term to be part of the gestalt of the enterprise—i.e. permaculture. However, in recent years nearly one third of hives have been hit by a mysterious disruption called Colony Collapse Disorder. For some reason, the worker bees leave the colony abandoning their queen, brood and food, never to return. The bees simply disappear without apparent cause, although a variety of stressors are indicated.

Last night, I had the chance finally to watch a film I’ve been waiting-dreading to see—Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”. In this post-apocalyptic landscape, a father struggles to save his son as they trek through a nightmarish gauntlet of cannibalism, ecological destruction and the total collapse of civil society. There’s no food, nothing grows. A fine silt of ash covers everything, and at each turn one successive horror after another threatens to overtake them.

The book the film was based on has been declared by some reviewers as "the most important environmental book ever." I’m hopeful that post-decline of Peak Oil, our civil institutions and progressive ideas like permaculture will help bridge the terror this film conjures. I remain optimistic that we will seek and find solutions that will allow us to live harmoniously, like bees, each with an interconnected sustainable role.

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