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Event aims to educate students of challenges bees face

April 27, 2015 – Gaza City, Gaza Strip – Palestinian beekeepers remove trays from a beehive to collect honey at a honey-bee farm in Gaza City. Beekeepers collect honey and wax from the beehives at this time of year. (Credit Image: © Ashraf Amra/APA Images/ZUMA Wire)

As pollinators continue on a path towards endangerment, one student organization hopes to explain how bees’ increasing death rate affects human lives.

On Tuesday, Students for a Sustainable Campus is set to host an event called “We Can Bee Better,” featuring a panel of with Ohio State professors, beekeepers and a co-owner of Columbus’ Brothers Drake Meadery.

“This issue of pollination, as well as a lot of environmental issues, is a lot more complex than we realize,” said Michelle Wentling, president of the organization and a third-year in English. “(Pollinator decline) is going to affect our lives in so many ways people don’t realize.”

Animals which are pollinators transfer pollen from flower to flower in the pursuit of nectar for food and, in the case of bees, honey-making. This allows the flowers to create offspring and bear fruit, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

But without pollinators, the prices of some food could increase, and some specialty foods could even disappear, said Reed Johnson, assistant professor of entomology.

“You wouldn’t be able to buy almonds at the supermarket without honeybees,” Johnson said. “Pumpkins … and other vine plants benefit from bee pollination as well, so carving your jack-o’-lantern is a benefit of bees.”

Not only is food a perk of pollinators, but so is alcohol.

Brothers Drake Meadery, which touts locally-sourced, raw wildflower honey as a main ingredient in its mead, is to be represented on the panel by owner Owen Benary. Once collected from a hive, the honey is fermented with a variety of fruits and spices, giving each batch of mead its own individual flavor, co-owner Sarah Benary said.

Sarah Benary said her business works with beekeepers to harvest high-quality honey. But the more problems beekeepers have with raising bees, the more expensive honey becomes.

“And the harder it is for us to pay for honey, the more people are going to be paying for mead,” she said.

Brothers Drake offers tours of its meadery, and Sarah Benary said patrons are paying attention to problems bees are facing.

“Every time I’ve done a tour, somebody’s asked about (the pollinator problem), so I think it’s very much on people’s minds and they’re hearing about it from somewhere” she said. “Even the Cheerios campaign is on it.”

Business owners and professors agreed that protecting the vulnerable insects is vital to maintaining both the food system and economy, but tackling that problems can be hard.

“Keeping bees 50 years ago was kind of like keeping a bird feeder,” Johnson said. “You set it out there, and they do their thing.”

But today’s massive die-offs tell a different story. According to surveys of colonies in 2014 and 2015, 42.1 percent of bee colonies died, up 34.2 percent from the previous year, with a larger majority of bee deaths occurring in the summer, the Department of Agriculture reported.

Johnson said during the April and May corn planting season in Ohio, insecticides are released into the soil, contributing to the summer bee deaths.

Although Johnson doesn’t think bees are in danger of going extinct anytime soon, the pollinators still face a slew of problems, aside from insecticides. From diseases to blood-sucking mites that kill colonies, beekeeping has become increasingly difficult, he said.

But people can mitigate some of the problems by doing simple things to their yard, he said.

“The biggest thing we can do is provide more flowers in the landscape,” Johnson said. “And let weedy things in lawns grow, like clover and dandelions. Bees love those things.”

Correction, 4/4: An earlier version of this article misstated who was representing Brothers Drake Meadery at the panel.

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