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Drew’s Honeybees Manifesto
Bees are super critical to human well-being for one huge reason. They are the pollinators of choice to everything from almonds, blueberries, and cucumbers, to tangerines, watermelon, and zucchini. Anything that blossoms and fruits requires pollination. Seriously, it’s easier to list the plants that aren’t pollinated by bees than those that are. Corn, oats, wheat, barley and other gruel-type foods do not require bee pollination. Some leafy greens are the leaf of the plant, not a blossom, and do not require pollination. However, leafy greens do require pollination to produce a non-edible seed and thus repropagate. Most below ground root veggies (carrots, sweet potatoes, etc.) are the same. Farmers pollinate high-value crops, like vanilla, by hand as the melipona bee, which pollinated the vanilla orchid for eons is effectively extinct. Other than these exceptions bees are foremost among many pollinators enabling your produce section to be a colorful menagerie. Among bees, no bee is as important as Apis mellifera, the European Honeybee.
The European Honeybee is as well adapted to our intensive industrialized agricultural system as any pollinator on earth. We grow our food in monoculture landscapes. In the California Central Valley, where farmers grow eighty percent of the world’s almond crop, they grow row after row of almond trees packed close together. In the short term, it is the method by which farmers can grow the most yield from a plot of earth. Monoculture is just what the name implies, acre after acre, mile after mile of a single plant. This is a highly artificial arrangement that in no way resembles an ecosystem.
While no pollinator does well in a monoculture, the Honeybee can perform a critically important task in such an environment. Honeybees live in hives containing upwards of 80,000 of Nature’s perfect pollinators. They have coevolved over eons to collect nectar and pollen and thereby efficiently carry pollen granules on their tiny hairy body to cross-pollinate plants. Honeybee hives are also tolerant of being near other Honeybee hives. These traits enable beekeepers to keep Honeybees on wooden pallets, which can be moved by forklift and placed in an orchard or field for the duration of a crops’ bloom. After the bloom, the hives are packed by forklift onto the back of a flatbed where beekeepers transport them to the next great pollination circus. In this manner Honeybees zigzag the country. From almonds in California to apples and cherries in Washington state, from blueberries in Maine to peaches in Georgia to oranges in Florida, farmers can call upon a legion of mobile beekeepers to reinforce the local supply.
This tenuous system is how we populate our produce sections. Honeybees have several major factors that imperil their health and the viability of this system. The parasite Varroa destructor, which jumped from the Asian Honeybee to the European Honeybee in the 1950s, is a significant threat. Because Varroa jumped cross-species, the European Honeybee had no evolutionary preparation. Accordingly, if left unchecked Varroa populations spiral out of control and Honeybee colonies succumb to a toxic pestilence of pathogens and filth. Honeybees also have to contend with agribusiness chemicals that have known and unknown effects. Several types of neonicotinoid pesticides have been demonstrated to have a deleterious effect on Honeybees. Due to the financial and political clout of agribusiness giants, and their ability to muddy the scientific consensus, neonicotinoid pesticides are still in widespread use in the U.S. despite being banned in Canada and the EU. Bees also suffer from poor nutrition. Bees in mobile beekeeping operations go from having one plant available for one to two weeks, have nothing for several days while in transit, then another single plant for one to two weeks. This single source diet leads to weakened bees. Even nonmobile bees have a diet that is less varied and abundant that before the Anthropocene. Every parking lot, cornfield, and manicured lawn detracts from the land bees rely upon to provide them with diverse and abundant nectar and pollen. As if that wasn’t enough, the bees in mobile beekeeping operations are barred exit and jostled for days on end as they crisscross North America. These factors can be too much for Honeybees to survive. Without them, the whole system would be unworkable.
Drew’s Honeybees products are unique in several regards. One primary difference is our Benefit Corporation Mission. We recognize that without the Honeybee this whole edifice comes crashing down. Accordingly, we elect to dedicate 20% of net profits to Honeybee research, education and advocacy. We currently fund the Honeybee program at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES). Located at Lockwood Farm in Hamden, CT, Dr. Richard Cowles and his team selectively breed bees with survivor traits to arrive at a more vital Honeybee. To date, we’ve contributed over $1,180, our time and expertise to their efforts. The plight of the Honeybee won’t change with awareness. Accordingly, we seek to educate the public with in-store events, school outreach, and media campaigns. Lastly, we’re not afraid to engage in public advocacy seeking change to help the Honeybee thrive.
We also take our commitment to our customers seriously. We shun common shortcuts to deliver the best in natural, organic skincare. We’ll take our lip balms as an example. Most lip balm manufacturers, even natural and organic companies, take shortcuts to cut costs. They commonly use composite flavors. If you look at the ingredients on your lip balm, you’ll see what I’m referring to. Composite flavors are concocted by chemists to approximate the smell and taste of a particular fruit. We’ll use passionfruit as an example. While the flavor in your lip balm may smell and taste like passion fruit, there is little or no passionfruit in the composite flavor. Instead, manufacturers list this ingredient as “flavor,” leaving the consumer no closer to knowing what it is. Instead of composite flavor, we give you the fruit of the plant, be it vanilla, cocoa, or citrus. Our vanilla serves as a great example. We use organic, fair-trade, CO2 extracted vanilla because the smell and taste are divine. Being so accustomed to synthetic and composite vanilla, we find many customers have never experienced genuine vanilla. We’re big proponents of or supercritical CO2 extraction. The CO2 extraction process entails pumping pressurized carbon dioxide into a chamber filled with plant matter. In this pressurized state, carbon dioxide turns “supercritical,” functioning as a solvent pulling the oils, pigments, and resins from the fibrous material. When the process is complete, the CO2 dissipates, leaving no impurities. This process produces a complete plant derivative unaltered by the high heat of steam distillation or impurities of solvent extraction. CO2 extracts typically contain more constituents than just the essential oil portion. In this manner, they more closely resemble the plants chemical composition. We never use sheep grease, commonly called lanolin, in our lip balms. Instead, we use the best oil in natural organic skincare to heal your lips- Jojoba. Researchers have demonstrated that jojoba is best across skin types as it closely approximates the skin’s natural oils, called sebum. It’s just one more way we eschew shortcuts to bring you the best.
There is magic in a Honeybee hive. How eighty thousand individual organisms can efficiently divvy innumerable tasks among their ranks, and function as a superorganism is a source of endless fascination. Each Honeybee is not long for this world absent the hive. In sum, they can change the world. That is not just rhetoric; Honeybees can lead to more vibrant flora hence more diverse fauna in their ecosystem. Honeybees are insects that have many of the characteristics of higher order mammals. They have low rates of colony reproduction, as do mammals. Female mammals produce nourishment (milk) for their offspring in specialized glands. Female Honeybees produce nourishment (royal jelly) in specialized glands. The mammalian uterus nurtures offspring in a controlled and protected environment. Honeybees afford their offspring a social uterus in the brood nest. Mammals have body temperatures of about 36 Celsius; Honeybees keep the brood nest precisely at 35 Celcius. Mammals have large brains and heightened cognitive abilities. Honeybees possess a highly evolved capacity for learning and cognitive ability that exceeds that of some vertebrates. I am just exceedingly fortunate to be engaged daily in my passion.
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