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March 05, 2019

If you have been paying attention to the last fifty years, it should be obvious to you that how we obtain our food in most western countries (and increasing elsewhere in the world) is not sustainable. The small family farms growing a variety of crops and naturally raised livestock are largely a thing of the past. Large corporate farms and massive agri-business organizations dominate the landscape.  The results of this shift are a disaster; ecologically, financially, sustainably and medically. As is typically the case, money has almost everything to do with the current situation. Corporate greed, short-term profits, and politicians unduly influenced by money from the big players has resulted in monoculture large scale farms which deplete the nutrients of the soil and require the latest and greatest bio-engineered pesticides, herbicides, genetically modified seeds just to keep the wheels from falling off of the whole thing. There is no hope and we are doomed, right? Maybe not.

There is a movement afoot which has been gaining momentum over the past several decades away from this broken system. It has been called many different things over the years; organic, farm-to-table, sustainable farming, natural and treatment free farming/livestock raising. Whatever you call it, the goals are really the same; to raise livestock (including bees) in a natural way without confinement, antibiotics, hormones or steroids and to grow plant-based foods without fertilizers made from petroleum, without pesticides and herbicides that kill our pollinators and other insects indiscriminately, and get back to the way your great grandparents would have done things.

Natural, Darwinian, treatment-free - there are all monikers used to refer to sustainable practices adhered to by beekeepers. Although not inclusive of all of the following tenants, the general idea is to keep bees as close to the way they would behave in nature. This may include using only natural hive materials, allowing the bees to build natural comb within the hive, and refusing to treat the bees with any antibiotics, miticides, fungicides, or organic acids. Bees treated with these various chemicals whether natural or not, coupled with the other stressors in their worlds such as wide-scale pesticide and herbicide use and the pressure of commercial beekeeping activities, are thought to be the main culprits contributing to the decline of the honey bee worldwide. The primary treatments applied to honey bees in both commercial and hobby beekeeping operations to combat the Varroa mite are especially problematic. While these treatments do kill or severely curtain the mite, for which the European honey bee has very little natural defense mechanisms, they are harming the bees as well and creating mites which are becoming immune to the various treatments.  In essence, these beekeepers are creating super mites, much like the medical community has created superbugs by overprescribing or unnecessarily prescribing antibiotics. 

There is a better way.  Since the introduction of the Varroa mite in the 1980s, feral or wild honey bees have been dealing with the problem on their own through natural selection. Every year more and more bees come out of winter and are selecting for traits that combat the mite without our help.  Each time we think we know better than nature; we are wrong. Allowing honey bees to sink or swim in our hives will result in the same ability to fight back on their own through natural selection.  Those bees that survive pass on the genetic material that allowed them to do so and those that die, don’t. It is really that simple.

So, if you care about our fragile planet, care about the seventy percent of fruits and vegetables that will disappear if the honey bee and other native pollinators don't make it, and if you care about putting honey in your body, that is antibiotic, miticide and fungicide free, then please make sure you buy honey from local treatment free beekeepers whenever possible. The bees (and the planet) will thank you. As a bonus, you will enjoy some of the best honey you have ever tasted in your life.

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