A sandwich made with cheese and sun-ripened tomato, bursting with flavor. A jug of red wine. A plate of strawberries and cream. Call it the ultimate picnic lunch. Or call it a meal brought to you by the humble bumble bee. None of these foods, it turns out, would be possible without the help of bees and their pollinator cousins like butterflies, birds, and bats.
Pollination is one of nature’s many symbiotic loops. Bees and other critters collect nectar from flowers to turn into food. As they do, they pick up pollen from one flower and carry it to the next. The flowers, in turn, use these deposits to develop their fruit (and ensure genetic diversity and hardiness).
It’s a natural process that’s taken place for thousands of years, and no one except farmers and geneticists paid it much mind until the past decade or so. That’s when we started to see a massive collapse of our pollinator populations.
Among commercial beekeepers, colonies have shrunk from 6 million in 1947 to just 2.5 million today, according to a 2014 statement from the White House. And the problem is even more dire among wild pollinator species. What’s to blame? The scientific consensus is that a combination of factors is at work, including toxic pesticides, pollinator habitat loss, climate change, parasites and other influences.
Trouble for pollinators means trouble for us since, globally, some 35 percent of food production literally depends on bees and butterflies. That’s why a number of organizations, including the Pollinator Friendly Alliance, based in Minnesota, have launched efforts to save the bees.
The nonprofit alliance takes a multi-pronged approach to the problem. On the one hand, the group works with local governments at the city and county level to implement pro-pollinator ordinances. In the city of Stillwater, Minnesota (pop. 19,202), for instance, the alliance lobbied for a resolution to prevent the city from using neonicotinoid insecticides, which are toxic to bees. The resolution passed in 2015.
The group also promotes the planting of pollinator-friendly habitat. In Stillwater, the city has set aside seven garden locations, where volunteers rallied by the alliance may plant and maintain habitats designed to help bees, butterflies, and other species to thrive.
The conventional American lawn—weed-free, tidy and trimmed—is anathema to pollinators, especially native species, many of which live in bare soil, and all of which thrive on native flowering plants, not grass. So the alliance helps the city’s residents to plant lawns that are, in essence, low-growth flower gardens made from fescue, clover, and other flowering plants.
The various efforts of the Pollinator Friendly Alliance will come together in one celebration on September 10 at what is being billed the POLLI*NATION FESTIVAL. The festival will feature music, beer and mead tasting, and educational efforts to nudge public awareness of the peril of pollinator loss.
Want to learn more about how YOU can support pollinators in your own community? Check out this article for more information about the plight of pollinators, and especially for 5 real ways you can help pollinators right in your own yard.
Organic Valley strongly supports organizations and actions that preserve pollinator habitats and educate local communities about the many small ways they can make a difference. We are proud to sponsor the Pollinator Friendly Alliance for its community-building and positive impact on our environment.