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The Tour is Over But the Fight to Keep the Hives Alive Continues

By: Madeleine Carnemark and Claire Jordan

June 27, 2016
Center for Food Safety

Keep the Hives Alive Tour from Jason Davidson on Vimeo.

The Keep the Hives Alive tour may have ended, but the national movement to secure stronger protections for bees has never been more robust. The conversation between beekeepers, scientists, farmers and activists that began last September took form this past week as a national tour to raise awareness about pollinator declines, celebrate the pollinator protection initiatives happening across the country, counter the misleading PR tactics of the agrichemical industry and demand action from government agencies to regulate bee-toxic pesticides and promote sustainable farming practices. Keep the Hives Alive met all of these objectives, but the tour’s true victory was the inspiration that spread across the nation. From state to state, the tour provided a critical platform for sharing stories from of people impacted by the chemically intensive agricultural system, and those working to make our food system safer and more sustainable.

We were lucky to join the tour for several of its stops across the country. For those of you who weren’t able to, here are some of the highlights.

Keep the Hives Alive kicked off in Sacramento, California where beekeepers, consumers and concerned citizens gathered outside of the state legislature to support the Pollinator Protection Act and call for restrictions on uses of bee-toxic pesticides.

From California, the tour drove to Estelline, South Dakota for an event at Blue Dasher Farm, a regenerative agricultural research farm founded by former USDA scientist Jonathan Lundgren.

Lundgren and his family welcomed over 100 people to the farm, including beekeepers, farmers, scientists and concerned consumers all eager to learn about the possibilities of shifting our agricultural system. Blue Dasher is truly inspirational. Its purpose is to lead by example – to launch research projects evaluating the benefits of regenerative and agroecological farming practices and to promote a vision of what the future of farming could (and should) look like. There is both irony and poetic beauty in Lundgren’s farm; it is a safe haven for pollinators and many other species amongst miles of conventionally grown corn and soybeans where the presence of corporate agrichemical companies can be felt between every row of tilled farm land.

The guests of the event toured the farm and learned about the research Dr. Lundgren is conducting, along with the research of numerous USD graduate students. Later in the evening, all of the tour attendees gathered in the barn to partake in a panel discussion and Q&A featuring local farmers and beekeepers that are going against the grain by avoiding harmful agricultural practices and chemicals. It was incredible to listen to the stories of these passionate and hardworking community members – but perhaps even more incredible was the level of engagement from the audience and the collaborative dialogue concerning how we can work together to promote a more sustainable food future.

The Keep the Hives Alive truck, driven by beekeeper James Cook and filled with boxes of over 2.6 million dead bees (unfortunately only a small representation of the over 40% of hives that die off every year), left Blue Dasher the next morning heading for events in Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Washington, D.C. With each stop the truck grew heavier with stories of beekeepers’ heartbreak over continued hive losses, and consumers’ concerns for the health of their families, but continued on with the momentum from people all across the nation desiring real change and willing to work for and demand it.

The next stop on the tour was at the beautiful Moonstone Farm in Montevideo, Minnesota. Minnesotans care deeply about pollinator health – 22 cities, counties and campuses statewide have passed strong resolutions for pollinator protection and numerous efforts to support both state and federal plans. The enthusiasm of this community was exemplified when nearly 70 people arrived at Moonstone Farm, despite Tornado warnings, to support Keep the Hives Alive. The speakers at the Minnesota event stressed that in a fight for change, we all must wear many hats. It is this willingness to approach the issues from so many different angles that strengthens Minnesota’s movement and results in the state’s great success.

Onward from Minnesota, the ‘bee truck” continued to Michigan, another state that has been a champion of pollinator protection. The first of two Michigan stops was Ypsilanti, home of the first Bee City USA designation and Bee Safe Neighborhood in the state. The event featured children’s activities, a costume contest and live entertainment, in addition to a list of notable speakers. The day was a celebration of the hardworking citizens and city leaders that led by example, pushed for strong pollinator protection initiatives and continue to set nationwide standards for creating and maintaining pollinator safe habitats.

The dead bee truck next rolled into Detroit to visit D-Town farm, a seven-acre community, self determination farm that uses organic methods and is a project of The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. The stop at D-Town highlighted the interconnectedness of environmental, agricultural and social justice issues in this country.

Of course, no tour aimed at raising awareness of the severity of pollinator declines would be complete without a stop at Hackenberg Apiaries in Lewisburg, PA. Dave Hackenberg is a commercial beekeeper who first brought attention to honeybee disappearance after losing 80% of his 3000 bee colonies. With 10 years of experience advocating for the bees, Hackenberg’s resilience in the fight to protect pollinators is proof that enough is enough and we need strong action now! At the event, attendees were given the opportunity to tour his incredible apiaries and see firsthand that beekeeping is a serious business, and a necessary component to the agricultural system that we cannot afford to lose.

After a long week on the road, the Keep the Hives Alive truck brought the message to the doorsteps of industry at the Bayer Crop Science headquarters in Research Triangle Park, NC. To fully understand the power and influence behind this grassroots movement, one must consider why, when activists, farmers, beekeepers and community members gathered on the front lawn of the Bayer facility to tell their stories and to address Bayer, company representatives only yards away were unwilling to attend. Bayer, a company that has poured millions of dollars into portraying itself as a bee-friendly corporation – despite being the manufacturer of many of the leading bee-toxic chemicals on the market – did not accept the invitation to attend this peaceful but powerful event, and was thus unable to hear first-hand the concerns regarding their bee-toxic products and the desire for change in the North Carolina community and beyond.

Bayer’s noted absence did not deter the spirit of this movement, but fueled it further and the crowd continued to build upon the inspiring words of the speakers. The crowd cheered, chanted and mourned for the loss of honeybees. It was an event like no other, as attendees demanded action right on the doorstep of a company largely responsible for the problem.  

This energy carried the tour all the way to its final stop on the front lawn of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C during Pollinator Week on Wednesday, June 22nd. With over a hundred people congregated around the speakers, “No Bees, No Food” chants roared over the microphone and hopefully into the hearts of those responsible for regulating bee-toxic chemicals. Various environmental organizations, reporters, speakers that represented all aspects of the pollinator spectrum, beekeepers from across the country, restaurant and business owners, and concerned citizens gathered for a monumental day for the bees and for our food system. It was an electric and energized crowd, fueled by the tour stops before it. After some of the most inspiring and passionate speakers took the podium, leaders from the Keep The Hives Alive tour marched into the office of the EPA to deliver nearly five million signatures demanding stronger regulations of bee-toxic pesticides. These five million signatures represent the movement that is building and are a testament that Americans are fed up with the inactions of government agencies that need to do their jobs and regulate chemicals proven to be dangerous to pollinators, ecosystems, our food supply and potentially ourselves.

This tour did so much more than simply call attention to the serious issues affecting pollinator populations. After 10 years of fighting for better protection of pollinator species we are no longer wondering what the causes are of continued decline. This tour showed that a spark has been ignited and we are now demanding that action is taken to protect these species, demanding that agrichemical companies are held accountable, demanding that government agencies regulate these harmful products and demanding that the voices of those working towards a brighter future be heard. This movement is not just one of or for environmentalists, or beekeepers, or farmers, or scientists; it is a movement of people from all different backgrounds working together to pool resources and take on the Goliath-like industry. Hearing speakers demanding a “food system paradigm shift” shows truly the strength of organization. While the tour reached its final stop, its purpose and the momentum it built has just begun. We will not let up until necessary actions are taken and until the safety of bees is secured.

See more images and highlights from the tour here.

Tell the EPA to act on bee-killing pesticides, now!