Mark Bittman visits the organic Full Belly Farm in Guinda, CA with UC Berkeley's Claire Kremen, a conservation biologist and faculty co-director of the Berkeley Food Institute. She is an expert in pollination and diversified farming techniques.
Watch the video and say whether the statements below are true or false.
1 Bees are essential for farming.
2 Bees load the pollen on their head.
3 In the pollination process, pollen is transferred from the female parts to the male parts of the flower.
4 Bees are the only pollinators.
5 Californian farmers have enough native bees for their farming industry.
6 Farming techniques are harmful for bees.
7 Wild bees are beneficial for farming.
I don't get to see many bees walking the streets of Manhattan. But out here in California, I've had the opportunity to see many of these hardworking insects up close. Without bees, our grocery stores, farmer's markets, and dinner tables would be pretty barren.
UC Berkeley conservation biologists Claire Kremen and I take a trip to Full Belly Farm in Guinda to see what they're doing to bees and other pollinators happy. This is a very…
So this is…
…pretty field, obviously.
Yeah, really gorgeous.
It's really quite varied compared to…
Yes, it's so varied.
…1,000 acres of hay. You're going to catch us some bees?
Yeah, I'll catch some bees.
That's pretty exciting.
And you can see them kind of buzzing around.
There's a couple little ones in here.
Bumblebees are social. Isn't that a handsome creature? And you can see the large pollen loads on the back of its leg.
Oh, yeah. I can.
Isn't that cool?
I think of this farm as native pollinator central. And it's really because of the way they farm that they grow so may different types of crops to attract the pollinators out here.
Let's define a pollinator. And let's talk about why they're important.
A pollinator is any animal that visits a flower and transfers the pollen from the male parts to the female parts of the flower, or from one flower to another. And by doing that, fertilizes the plant and allows the plant to reproduce, and create a seed or fruit. And why they're so important to us is because about 75% of the crops that we enjoy and rely on benefit from animal pollinators visiting them.
So pollinators doesn't just mean bees? Or are there other pollinators too? Do moths pollinate?
Yeah. All kinds of organisms pollinate. Bees are the ones we think about the most when we think about crop pollination, because in general, they are the most important.
In California, farmers have enough bees to pollinate apples, avocados, cherries, and other produce every year. But they import nearly 1.5 million honey bee hives to pollinate the state's biggest export, almonds.
The critical thing is to think about the honey bee as one species that we brought to this country from Europe. And it has a number of health issues. And it's been termed colony collapse disorder. We now rely practically exclusively on honey bees. But it's kind of crazy. You know, we have to transport our pollination service for 3,000 miles when we have 100, 150 native bee species that visit crops and pollinate them.
Obviously, colony collapse disorder is a big deal. But it sounds like it's more of a big deal because just as we've become dependent on monoculture, we've become dependent on this sort of mono-pollinator.
When they transport these bees across the country, there's large numbers of hives that are interacting with one another. That's a great place for them to transmit diseases from one to another. They're being exposed to pesticides on the fields where their foraging. And often, there are a few other form of resources for them. So they're also experiencing sort of a very simplified diet. I mean, you wouldn't want to just eat almonds all day long.
We're using bees in the same way that we use soil, and in the same way that you use fertilizer. It's all very one dimensional.
Yeah. So simplified. Studying pollinators kind of opened my eyes to our whole farming system. Why do we have this farming system when we can see…, you know, this is beautiful. I love being here. You being here. It's a healthy environment. You know, why do we have so much monoculture? We have created the government and economic structures that seem to have made it a necessity.
This is fundamentally unsustainable. And the only way to maintain your livelihood is to start using techniques of sustainable agriculture. That requires that fundamental understanding. And to do it before the environmental catastrophe.
Will farms take the necessary steps to support bees? Some start out simply and plant hedgerows-- an assortment of plants that flower at different times and provide a rich source of food for pollinators year round. Farmers that welcome wild bees through diversified farming techniques will gain a valuable and natural ally in growing their crops.
We have some fresh egg pasta from eggs from our farm, and then a little salad as well. So yeah, enjoy.
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