Farmers' Market Educational Series:
Bees, Butterflies, and Birds: 3 Things You Need to Do to Save Our Pollinators
By: Christy Erickson
Pollinators are more than pretty visitors to the backyard — they’re an integral part of every ecosystem on Earth. Bees, butterflies, birds, and even bats are the reason that plants around the world are able to reproduce, producing vibrant flowers and delicious foods season after season. Without bees, not only would the diversity of the world’s food supply be at risk, but the very beauty of nature could start to fade away as pollinator-dependent species disappear.
It’s easy to think of decreasing pollinator populations as a problem for the agricultural industry. After all, it’s farmers who need bees to help them meet their bottom line. But if you eat food, your own fate is intimately connected to the fate of pollinators. Here are three things you need to start doing today to help protect these vulnerable species.
Scientists suspect that pesticides — or more specifically, insecticides — are one of the biggest causes of the world’s declining pollinator populations. Insecticides sprayed to control nuisance bugs around the home are harmful not only to their intended targets, but to beneficial bugs as well. And large-scale pesticide use on commercial farms contaminates honey bee hives and leads to the devastating colony collapse disorder.
Researchers have investigated the impact of several types of pesticides on bees. Most recently, the focus has been on a group of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, or neonics, a nicotine-derived insecticide that’s applied to countless acres of fruit and vegetable crops grown in the U.S., including nearly all of the country’s corn crop. These systemic pesticides are absorbed into plants, soil, and water, leaving the environment at large vulnerable to their toxic effects.
When you buy produce directly from a local farmer, you can ask growers exactly how their crops are grown. You can discover if the farmer uses pesticides and, if so, which chemical inputs are applied. On the other hand, food purchased at the grocery store is often shrouded in mystery. While most informed consumers today understand that conventional produce is grown using a number of harmful practices, few realize that fruits and vegetables labeled “organic” aren’t necessarily much better.
Most organic produce available at mainstream grocery stores is grown using similar monocultural practices as conventional agriculture. However, instead of using synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, organic farmers use products derived from natural sources. However, “natural” doesn’t always mean safer for pollinators. Organic pesticides like pyrethrin are still highly toxic to bees.
Save your money on store-bought organics, and instead turn to farmers markets, CSA shares, and farmer cooperatives for your fruit and vegetable needs. Local small farmers are more likely to use pesticide-free, biodynamic practices than large-scale farming operations, and you can ask the farmer directly to find out for certain.
One of the easiest and most impactful ways you can help bees in your region is by designing and building a pollinator garden for your home. Pollinator gardens are designated wildlife habitats designed to attract native bee, bird, and butterfly species.
These gardens are planted primarily with flowering plants that provide pollen and nectar to foraging pollinators. However, they may also feature evergreens and conifers to provide shelter to birds, water features to keep wildlife hydrated, and natural features for bees to build nests in.