FOR A GUY with almost 10 million bees, Chapin Burgess gets around. Between bouts of tending wheatgrass at his Eden Farmacy in Bluffton and advocating for food as medicine, the beevangelist shares a "pretty serious" message.
“If we lose the bees, we’re going to lose our produce,” he says soberly.
“Take corn, for example, which a lot of people don’t know bees pollinate. Over the past two years it’s been affected pretty bad. That means food, fuel, sugar, a lot of different products that suddenly are not being pollinated. Within four years after the last bee dies, we lose 80 percent of our food sources.”
If you’re looking for evidence of a scary decline, there’s this: On Halloween, for the first time ever, seven bee species will come under the protection of the United States’ Endangered Species Act.
Loss of habitat, a lack of genetic diversity, wildfires and—especially—widespread use of pesticides are decimating bee populations across the country, with more than 40 percent of U.S. honeybee colonies lost last year, according to a recent study conducted by the Department of Agriculture.
Eric Lee-Mader, a bee expert involved in making the case for the new protections, pointed out the bees provide “essential pollination services to agriculture which are valued at more than $9 billion annually.”
“As bees become endangered, we become endangered, too,” says Burgess, arguing the federal government’s protective umbrella should extend over more species, including the honey bee, which he has made his life’s work.
In the meantime, he’s sharing his knowledge with communities across the South, hoping to staunch the wound. One key part of the solution: you.
“Just learning about backyard beekeeping,” he says, can have a powerful ability to rebuild bees’ habitat and author a comeback. “People setting up their own hives, understanding the issues.”
You can join Burgess on Saturday in Daffin Park, where he will be one of many sustainability teachers participating in the 6th Annual Savannah Food Day, which organizers bill as the nation’s largest Food Day celebration. Other free classes will cover composting, food allergies, mushroom cultivation, backyard chickens, fermentation and food preservation.
Just like beekeeping, the festival is about building bridges “as people bring their connections and collective knowledge and skills to improve the community,” says organizer Joanne Morton.
“Connections are the glue that holds communities together,” she argues.
In addition to the area’s largest farmers market, the Food Day celebration will include live music, puppet shows for kids, a free bike valet run by the Savannah Bicycle Campaign, and 150 trees given away by the Savannah Tree Foundation.
And as a thanks to area first responders, who recently showed Savannah they are the glue that holds us together during and after a hurricane, sponsor Enmarket will offer them free lunches at its booth--just show your badge.
It all makes for a day that’s “alive with diversity and a sense of community,” says Enmarket’s Matt Clements. “It’s a great way to spend a Saturday in Savannah, whether you make it a family day or just come alone.”
On the subject of hurricanes, bees may have something to teach us, too, Burgess notes.
“They just go inside and stay put when the weather gets bad,” he observes. “Their honey is their food, they’ve got shelter.” They’ve got each other.
And with a bee hive weighing 600 to 700 pounds, they’re probably not blowing away. “Just tie them all down together and you’ve got several thousand pounds,” Burgess quips.
“With about 60,000 bees per hive, and I’ve got 160 hives,” he adds, that’s a lot of bees.
At least for now.