Recently a friend pointed out that the popularity of beekeeping ebbs and flows in a big way. The fluctuation is caused not by commercial beekeepers but by hobbyists and side-liners who tend to segue in and out of the hobby with the fad of the day. The previous big surge in beekeeping occurred in the 1970s after books like Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé focused attention on our food supply, and legislation such as the Endangered Species Act highlighted problems with our environment.
Today’s surge in beekeepers can be almost directly linked to colony collapse disorder. CCD focused attention not only on honey bees, but on native pollinators and other food supply issues such as pesticides and industrial farming. I say “almost” because other food and environmental imperatives pre-dated colony collapse disorder, among them outbreaks of e-coli 0157:H7, mad-cow disease, and salmonella in eggs.
Nevertheless I agree with my friend that the popularity of beekeeping will peak, then die off as some new environmental issue snares public attention. Her point (I think) was that I should be prepared to have something else to write about and perhaps what I’m doing here is all for naught.
However, I don’t see it that way. I think Colony Collapse Disorder—whether it actually exists or not—has done enormous good because it captured the public’s attention and focused it on creatures that have gone largely unnoticed. People who knew nothing about pollination or crop production became aware of the interplay between humans, bugs, and the food on our tables. Others learned that there was something to be treasured about stinging insects . . . that not all that buzzes should be banned . . . and that life as we know it depends on bees. How can that be bad?
Colony collapse disorder served as a wake-up call, a warning that things are not right in the world of industrial farming. A huge influx of hobby beekeepers will not, by themselves, save the honey bee—but a surge of public awareness might. Groups all over the country are pouring money into pollination research, bee breeding programs, pesticide inquiries, and alternative farming practices. This is the type of action that may ultimately solve—or at least ameliorate—the pollination problem facing us today and in the future.
As for me? I’ll always have something to write about.