While the spotted owl and grey wolf may be the poster children for the environment, the honeybee has been nudging its way in as the new darling.
And with good reason; honeybee populations are dwindling at an alarming rate, and nobody knows exactly why. The total number of managed honeybee colonies has gone from 5 million in the 1940s to only 2.5 million today. Winter 2012/2013 saw total losses of managed honeybee colonies at 31.1 percent, a figure higher than average for the last six years.
The USDA describes the situation — known as colony collapse disorder (CCD) — as a serious problem threatening the health of honeybees. Researchers are looking into potential causes in four areas: pathogens, parasites, management stressors and environmental stressors. Despite a number of claims in the general and scientific media, a cause or causes of CCD have not been identified by researchers.
What does this mean to us, the produce-eating public? One of every three bites of food comes from plants pollinated by honeybees and other pollinators. Without bees to pollinate our food, we’d have a third less variety of food to choose from.
To bring awareness to this potentially devastating situation, Whole Foods Market partnered with the nonprofit Xerces Society in the "Share the Buzz" campaign to protect pollinator populations. To illustrate the point, at the University Heights Whole Foods, workers temporarily removed all produce that comes from plants dependent on pollinators.
This resulted in the removal of 237 out of 453 products – 52 percent of the department's normal product mix. What's missing? There's a definitive lack of apples, avocados, bok choy, broccoli, broccoli rabe, cantaloupe, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, green onions, honeydew, kale, leeks, lemons, limes, mangos, mustard greens, onions, summer squash and zucchini — all foods that rely on bees.
"Pollinators are a critical link in our food system. More than 85 percent of earth's plant species – many of which compose some of the most nutritional parts of our diet – require pollinators to exist. Yet we continue to see alarming declines in bee numbers," said Eric Mader, assistant pollinator conservation director at the Xerces Society. "Our organization works with farmers nationwide to help them create wildflower habitat and adopt less pesticide-intensive practices. These simple strategies can tip the balance back in favor of bees."
What can you do to help save the bees … and your avocados and mangos as well? Whole Foods suggests the following tips:
- Buy organic as an easy way to support pollinators.
- Solve pest problems at home without toxic and persistent pesticides.
- Plant bee-friendly flowers and fruits.
- Look for the "Share the Buzz" signs throughout stores to support vendors that donate to the Xerces Society.
Photo: Whole Foods Market University Heights' produce department with and without items dependent on pollinator populations. (PRNewsFoto/Whole Foods Market)