Just down the street in my very urban San Francisco neighborhood is an organic farm, an experiment of sorts. Here, people have actually engaged the question 'how can we sustainably feed ourselves' in a very real, tangible way. Here, they are not just sitting around talking about it, they are actually, actively doing something about it. Putting their life's energy into it. Building a community around it. It's a fine and nobel thing to see.
But early last week a horrible thing happened. Vandals struck, gassing the farm's honeybee hives with household insecticide, destroying two of the three hives and killing over 250,000 bees.
Some things to know about honeybees:
- Honeybees don't sting unless provoked. In fact, they don't want to sting because then they will die.
- Honeybees beat their wings about 200 times per second, which creates the buzzing sound they're so famous for. They can fly up to 6 miles, and as fast as 15 miles per hour. A hive of bees will collectively fly 90,000 mile, or about three orbits around the earth, to collect enough pollen to make 1K of honey. It would take approximately 1 ounce of honey to fuel a bee's flight around the world.
- A honeybee will visit 50 to 100 flowers on an average trip. An average worker bee makes only about 1/12 teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.
- Honey is the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and water; and it's the only food that contains "pinocembrin", an antioxidant associated with improved brain functioning.
- Honey has been cultivated by humans for centuries.
- Honeybees have a complex social system with a Queen, drones (males), worker bees (females), nurses, and foragers. They communicate with each other through dancing and pheromones.
So why would someone want to destroy such a marvelous thing? What were they thinking, what was in their heart? How could this have seemed like a good thing to do?
I honestly don't know the answer to this, but I think it ultimately has to do with fear, and fear's expressions in anger and anxiety. Fearfulness is a powerful, gripping state of mind. It warps our judgement and tunnels our vision so that the only thing we can see is how this fear must be avoided and stopped.
Some people have said that the farm should put up barbed wire (it is currently fenced off with a chain link fence.) Others have said to put in surveillance cameras. I understand this impulse to protect, to avoid repeating this painful, hurtful event. I would not begrudge the farmers if they did this.
But a part of me wonders what else besides the bee's lives have the vandals stolen? What will the farm feel like, how will it belong again to the neighborhood, if it's wrapped up like a prison? When acts of violence occur, whether its a honeybee's hive or a brutal beating or worse, an essential trust is shaken and the fear cycle is perpetuated. How can the farm respond in a way that trust is rebuilt and strengthened? How can the vandals not win it all?
I have no solution, only questions. But I do know that what we do next, how we respond, is an opportunity to take back the act of violence and reclaim the farm as a place to teach, and be taught, a better way of being human.
For those of you living in SF, there will be an information session on bees at the farm Sunday August 1 at 10 AM. More information here.
For those of you moved by the story of the Hayes Valley Farm bees, you can make a donation to help in rebuilding the hives, instructions here. This is important because the hives were being used to educate people in urban beekeeping. Remember: we need honeybees. They are by far our most important pollinator. Without them, our food production would diminish to such an extent that human civilization could be put in peril.