Itinerant bees play an important role in economy

Eliza Mills Jan 16, 2015
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Itinerant bees play an important role in economy

Eliza Mills Jan 16, 2015
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Most gaps, whether they’re global or personal, are pretty easy to see, or visualize. But there’s a major economic gap in agriculture that’s invisible, for now. And that’s because it’s being filled. By bees. 

Without bees, we’d lose more than honey…. We‘d lose billions of dollars from our economy – $15 billion each year in the U.S. alone and $100 billion globally.

And we might taste the gap, too: Without bees, our plates would be a lot less colorful. Bees are crucial to the farming of fruits and vegetables, as well as grains, and meat (which relies on cattle fed on alfalfa, which depends on bees).

We spoke with Noah Wilson-Rich, founder of urban beekeeping business The Best Bees Company, about how to keep bees happy, healthy and productive in our economy.

He’s trying to change the way most bees live now, which is a little bit like long-haul truckers.

About half of all honey bees in the United States live on flatbed trucks, in rest stops or on planes. They travel from crop to crop, pollinating flowers and collecting nectar for their own food throughout the year.

Bee travel is a function of monoculture crops: because there isn’t enough food for bees in any one place, they move between agricultural hot spots. Bees pollinate almond blossoms in California, blueberries in Maine and then move on to cranberries, apples, oranges, lemons, traveling the country.

Wilson-Rich focuses on urban beekeeping as a way to keep bees healthy and stop all the travel. Bees, like most creatures, are healthier when they eat a varied diet. And recently, research has shown that bees produce more honey in urban settings than rural ones. 

Companies like The Best Bee Company integrate hives into cities, attaching them to homes, apartments, businesses and schools. 

As humans live more harmoniously alongside bees, Wilson-Rich says, the bee population will continue to increase, reaching levels that existed before colony collapse disorder depleted their number in 2006. 

To hear more about the bee economy, listen to the interview in the player above. 

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