“March Madness” might be about spring basketball championships to some, but for me, the term better describes the practice of using toxic chemicals to produce our food. As Jane Goodall wisely stated, “Someday we shall look back on this dark era of agriculture and shake our heads. How could we have ever believed that it was a good idea to grow our food with poisons?”

Each March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics celebrates “National Nutrition Month®,” and this year’s theme – “Put Your Best Fork Forward” – is intended to inspire us to think more critically about the food at the end of our forks. Not just for our own health, but for the sake of our planet.

However, in order to put our “best fork forward,”  we first need to put our forks down and ask these questions: where does my food come from; who produced it; and under what conditions? And, how can I make a difference with my fork?

Pollinators & Our Forks

Consider the connection between the food on our forks and pollinators. For example, did you know that one out of every three bites of food are dependent on honey bee pollination?  Any threats to pollinators, such as pesticides, climate change, and the loss of native habitat, have the potential to affect our entire food system.

Researchers at the University of Vermont recently produced a map showing  areas of our country where wild bee populations have declined significantly, placing the delicious and nutritious food crops we love – blueberries, apples, cherries, peaches, plums, and more – at risk. Blue shows high populations, yellow shows low populations:

Now compare this map to USGS pesticide use maps. Notice a similar pattern?

Areas of our country where we grow commodity crops using pesticide-dependent monocultures have lost the biodiversity of native plants that support native pollinators, which include bees, wasps, butterflies, birds, beetles and bats. In addition to routine herbicide spraying, major crop seeds, such as corn, soy and cotton, are coated with neonicotinoid pesticides, which are especially harmful to bees and other wildlife.

Seeds coated with neonicotinoid pesticides.

Seeds coated with neonicotinoid pesticides.

Unfortunately, farmers and consumers are often told that such poisons are necessary to improve crop yields to “feed the world,” but a new report from the United Nations busts that myth.

When our pollinators are in trouble, we’re in trouble. So from this day forward, rather than thinking of your fork as a mere piece of cutlery, envision it as a holistic medical device, a voting lever, and a power tool for protecting pollinators, people, and planet.

Here are five tips for protecting bees and beyond:

Put organic food at the end of your families’ forks.

Our national organic standards prohibit organic farmers from using the most toxic chemicals, including harmful neonicotinoid pesticides. Plus, organic farming promotes biodiversity, and sequesters carbon to help mitigate climate change.

Create a pollinator-friendly garden.

In addition to planting vegetables, include native varieties of flowering plants that bloom at different times throughout the growing season, providing nectar and pollen to a wide variety of native pollinators.

“Bee” a community resource.

Share information with your neighbors and friends. For example, organize a native plant or seed swap and discuss alternatives to toxic pesticides, such as prevention strategies, insecticidal soaps and herbal repellents. Create a neighborhood or community agreement to go pesticide-free.

Set an example.

Turn your lawn into a beautiful pesticide-free food and flower garden, and display a sign proclaiming your yard a “pesticide-free” zone.  Say “no” to landscape companies who apply pollinator-killing chemicals in pursuit of a “perfect” monoculture lawn.

Stop the madness.

Learn how at Beyond Pesticides’ 35th annual Forum, “Healthy Hives, Healthy Lives, Healthy Land,” in Minneapolis on April 28-29.  Meet Organic Valley farmers and pollinator researchers, and put some tasty organic food at the end of your fork.

Want more? Hear from Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, about the pesticide problem in a 2-part interview on Rootstock Radio.