We owe more than a third of all the food we grow on this planet to bees and other pollinators.
bees and honey
Credit: © James Porter/Getty

“People have a general fear of buzzy things,” says Nick French, a beekeeper and small-batch honey producer who manages 40 hives from his Colorado bee farm. French, of course, doesn’t harbor this particular fear; conversely, he’s doing his best to combat the discomfort so many of us have with buzzing swarms of bees—by getting us to adopt them.

The immediate benefits of apiary adoption are obvious: With most adopt-a-hive programs, the reward for supporting a hive is a gift of honey. As a part of French’s program, for instance, you can buy shares as you would in a CSA. It’s $530 a year to fund a full hive and take home 12 jars of honey, but for just $45 you can adopt one tweflth of a hive share and get a single jar.

But bee adoption programs are about much more than good honey. We owe more than a third of all the food we grow on this planet to bees and other pollinators—as they move pollen and seeds from one plant to another bees and their ilk fertilize almost everything they touch. If we lose them, we lose everything from cucumbers to cashews. And according to recent research from the USDA, our bees are at risk: The apiary population has plummeted 40 percent in the last decade. There are various reasons why. For one thing, there are new bee predators, like the terrifyingly named varroa destructor mite. Heavy pesticide use and the global rise of monolithic crops have also taken their tolls.

“Think of it this way,” French says, “There used to be a bee buffet—a bevy of wildflowers and other plants all around the edges of farm fields. When the fields get sprayed with pesticides, a lot of those plants vanish, which kills the pollen source for the bees.”

And while French’s adopt-a-hive program works on a more micro level—directly exposing bees to diverse, organic agriculture over his acres in Colorado—there are also other programs attacking the bee dilemma in a more macro way.

Dr. Lorna Tsutsumi, an entomology professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, runs an adopt-a-hive program (with support from chef Alan Wong) that has a dual focus: It allows her students to conduct research to develop better, safer beekeeping practices in the future. It also works to bring a new generation of beekeepers into the fold, providing scholarships every year for college students to get involved with bees. The Hilo program also adds an extra layer of personalization for bee adopters. Tsutsumi’s students write letters to each donor as the season goes on so they can know about the progress of the hives in real time and what a difference their adoption is making.

While the letters can make someone 5,000 miles away feel connected to the program, it’s the scholarships that will achieve the most important results. Of all the dangers to bees, the lack of people interested in caring for them is one of the most overlooked. When French went to a statewide meeting meant for Colorado’s beekeepers, he only saw three people there under the age of 40—and two of them were his daughters, who are 7 and 9. “If we don’t want to lose beekeeping entirely, we have to find a way to make it sexy,” he says. It might be tough to sell too many people on a mesh hood as a sexy outfit, so adoption is a great place to start.

To find out more about Frangiosa Farms Adopta-Hive program, order honey or learn how much it costs to build an individual hive, you can find them here.

To find out more about the University of Hawaii’s Adopt-a-Beehive program and their ongoing research, you can find them here.

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