Our vision at 1440 is creating hope for living well, and as we Wonder Well and investigate current ecological crises our inquiry naturally leads to the buzz around honeybees. We continue to educate ourselves and initiate important conversations such as this one with local beekeeper, Molly Eaton; we have three hives on campus; and we maintain our gardens in ways that support honeybees. Molly's expertise shines light on how honeybees help facilitate the regenerative process for all life on earth, what we can do to support them, and ways to enjoy the delicious honey they produce.
1440: We are so excited you have installed beehives at 1440 last year. What can you tell us about your involvement in the project?
Molly Eaton: My company, Northern Roots Bee Co., installs and maintains beehives for our corporate and residential clients. Our mission is to restore healthy honeybee populations in the Bay Area, engage companies and communities in a unique sustainability initiative, and educate people about the importance of pollinators. Our goal is to pollinate 200,000 acres of land in the greater Bay Area with thriving honeybee colonies. We installed three beehives at 1440 in 2020, and the bees have already pollinated over 36,000 acres of land in the Scotts Valley community.
1440: We have been hearing for years how important it is that we turn our attention to bees. What is the environmental impact that every little step, like installing hives here, can have?
Molly: The importance of honeybees cannot be overstated. They are the world's number-one pollinator and are responsible for pollinating over 80 percent of the Earth's plants. Their pollination services increase biodiversity which make ecosystems more resilient and productive. Honeybees also increase the quality and quantity of our fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Every garden plays a crucial role in the health of bees. A garden filled with pollinator-friendly plants provides them with good-quality pollen and nectar that sustains the 50,000 bees that make up the hive.
1440: How would you explain the importance of honeybees to someone who is not an expert?
Molly: Honeybees are an indicator species, which means their health is reflective of the health of our planet. Knowing that they're in trouble is indicative of where we are as a world. Honeybees have lived on Earth for the last 100 million years and have been crucial in the evolution of the plants and animals that exist today. Our entire agricultural system is dependent on honeybees for pollination. Without honeybees our food system would crumble.
1440: What has been one of the biggest threats to bees?
Molly: There are many threats impacting our honeybee population, but one of the most concerning is our reliance on pesticides, specifically neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are a systemic pesticide which means that they are absorbed into the plant and are present in the nectar and pollen that the bees consume as food. Imagine that a honeybee visits a flower to collect nectar or pollen that is contaminated with pesticides. Oftentimes, the bee will die immediately after ingestion. But sometimes the pesticides will affect the bee's ability to navigate home, so the bee becomes lost on the long journey back to the hive and dies.If the forager bee is able to make it back into the hive, the bee will feed the contaminated food to the babies. Those babies grow up on poisonous food and then, from a young age, their immune system, the microbiome of their gut, their mobility, and the development of their brain are all affected. And so, they're less able to fight off the various diseases and parasites that they're already dealing with.
1440: It's helpful to know that pesticides being sprayed are not only unhealthy for us as humans, but also are affecting the pollinators.
Molly: Pesticides are extremely damaging to our honeybee population, soil, water supply, food, and us. Many people don't realize the severity of our honeybee crisis. Last spring we lost over 40 percent of our honeybee population in America. This is largely due to our agricultural system's reliance on pesticides, large scale monoculture crops, migratory beekeeping practices, a lack of nutritious forage, as well as disease and parasites.
1440: Explain how eliminating bees, even if unintentional, is posing a huge threat to the food we buy and eat.
Molly: In America, one out of every three bites of food that we eat is thanks to a honeybee. Food like melons, berries, coffee, avocados, nuts, cucumbers—even alfalfa which is essential for our meat and dairy—are all pollinated by honeybees. If we continue to lose our honeybee population at the current rate, certain foods will become impossible or very difficult to find in supermarkets. The price of our food will drastically increase which will impact people's wellness and financial security.
1440: How did you start learning about bees and becoming so passionate about them?
Molly: I tasted the most incredible honey from Maine Beekeepers. I had never tasted anything like it. It led me to wonder how bees made something so pure and delicious. I started learning all about bees: how they pollinate our crops in search of nectar and pollen; how they turn nectar into honey; how the majority of the bees in a hive are females who are responsible for all of the hive duties. I became absolutely fascinated with them! Once I moved to Santa Cruz I invested in beehives and started Northern Roots Bee Co.
1440: What can we do in our everyday lives to act with more conscientiousness about the life of bees?
Molly: If you have the time, space, and resources, create a garden. Or try something as simple as putting a pot of rosemary out on your front step that you let go to flower. When you buy seeds, starters, and soil, be sure they weren't already treated with pesticides. If you provide bees with a pesticide-free, healthy source of nectar and pollen, you're doing wonders for them.
Also, become a beekeeper! There are so many great books, beekeeping mentors, and local clubs that can help you get started. I guarantee you'll be just as fascinated with them as I am.
Finally, support bees and beekeepers by buying local, raw honey at the farmer's market. Most of the honey available at the large grocery stores has been overheated and over-filtered which removes all of the beneficial enzymes, vitamins, and pollen from the honey. Sometimes the honey can even be contaminated with artificial sweeteners like rice syrup or high fructose corn syrup.
1440: Doesn't it help our immunity when we choose local honey? What are some of the most fun ways to eat honey?
Molly: Yes, local honey definitely improves our immunity thanks to the small grains of pollen in raw, unfiltered honey. I feel like I put honey on everything! I love the combination of rosemary crackers, goat cheese, and orange blossom honey drizzled on top. I put honey in smoothies, in tea, and on oatmeal. My mom used to cook carrots in a little bit of butter, honey, and salt; it's so good. For dessert, I love almond butter and dark chocolate chips with honey on top.
1440: You've given us so much inspiration for doing our part in the face of what seems like a large challenge for the bees.
Molly: Yes, the plight of honeybees can be overwhelming to think about. I truly believe that small actions made by individuals, organizations, and communities—such as hosting a beehive or planting a pollinator-friendly garden—can lead to a collective momentum toward creating a bee-friendly world.
To learn more about how to use honey and other garden ingredients in your home kitchen, register for a 1440 Teaching Kitchen Weekend.