Fish & Wildlife | Environment | Ecotrope

Urban Beekeepers Aim To Change Household Pesticide Use

Ecotrope | April 23, 2013 10:42 a.m. | Updated: April 23, 2013 11:58 a.m.

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New Seasons Market placed two colonies of honeybees on the rooftop of its Happy Valley store yesterday as part of a new campaign.

In time, the store will package and sell the honey the bees produce. But the main reason for the venture into beekeeping is to teach people about the problems impacting bee populations and to discourage them from using pesticides in their yards, according to the company’s private brands development manager Chris Tjersland.

“It’s not so much about making honey. It’s the education,” Tjiersland said. “Bees are an indicator species. They can tell you if there’s something impacting the world they’re trying to pollinate. If you educate the community that the pesticides you use in your yard impact the bees and colonies, you can send the message that it’s OK to have a few weeds in your yard or to allow the dandelions to grow.”

Two hives were donated to the grocery store by GloryBee honey of Eugene and two smaller colonies came from Foothills Honey of Colton. New Seasons paid Damian Magista of the hyper-local honey company Bee Local to install and oversee the hives, as he does in backyards and businesses across Portland.

Magista said his work keeping around 25 hives is geared toward addressing the problem of bee colony collapse disorder, a relatively new phenomenon wherein a colony’s worker bee population suddenly disappears, and the hive eventually dies. Researchers have found a number of possible causes, including a parasite, a virus, pesticide poisoning, stress from bee management, and poor nutrition from inadequate forage plants.

“The honey is lovely, and that’s really great, but the secret core of what I do is education,” Magista said. “By bringing bees into the community, you’re starting the conversation about bees, and it starts filtering down into colony collapse disorder.”

Magista said he blames the problem of colony collapse disorder on industrial agriculture, which relies on commercial beekeeping to pollinate plants but limits bees to foraging on monoculture crops that have been treated with pesticides and herbicides. He’s hoping people will not only change their use of pesticides and herbicides at home but also change the way they choose the foods they eat.

“What we start talking about is we have this very large agricultural system, and to support it we have to use commercial beekeeping,” he said. “We need to find a different way to produce our food and take care of our environment. We can grow our own food. We can keep our own hives and they can be healthier than they would be if they were in the commercial food system.”

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