Honeybees, Crop Dusters, & Little, Listening Ears

Life has been such an amazing kind of busy lately. We’ve been busy doing the kind of work that feels so right it must be play. The kind of busy that finds you smiling for long jaunts of the day….that helps you fall fast into a deep cozy sleep the moment you hit the bed….the kind that makes time feel like a loose, unimportant concept. It’s also been the kind that has kept me very content to be out of my computer seat. But there was something that happened the other day that has lead me to feel that I must sit down and share. Share the beauty of all the amazing educating that has been going on here & also a glimpse into the difficulties we have ran into with adjacent properties & the sadness it has caused. So, I’ll go ahead and start my story on a Tuesday evening (last week) when we were visited by two of the farmers who run the field next to us.

They had come to let us know that on Wednesday, a crop duster would be spraying an insecticide on the field because they were having a Weevil problem. Our two main reactions were concerns in how this would affect our school day on Wednesday & how this would affect our new honey bees. We were grateful they came to tell us, but after they left, I realized I had so many questions! At this point we thought, alright we’ll close up the bees, find out what it is that they are spraying, & see how long we need to keep them in.
Now, jump back to April…..I started an online three month long course to become a certified National Geographic educator. In short, I just love it. I kid you not, I teared up more than once in the first few days of my work as I was going through the course. Imagine my excitement when I realized, here is a world-wide, well-known organization(that I have wanted to work for since I was a kid) that is very actively promoting the same education philosophies that I have! That is giving folks all around the world tools & support to spread this outlook! They talk about celebrating curiosity in children, embracing community, seeking out mentors, loving & respecting nature, thinking locally, regionally, & globally……the tears were definitely that of joy & relief. Joy that there is hope. And relief, that I am not alone. Which I knew, but sometimes, when you’ve been stuck around so many ‘negative Nancy’s’ who just don’t want to grow or seem to not want to support other women, well, you start to get a little un-inspired. So finding out that this community exists, that I am part of it, that I can find resources & advice & share with others about what works & what hasn’t for us here, ahhhh…it’s just plain nice!
And I’m telling you all about this now because for one of my projects in the course, I needed to incorporate an article from National Geographic in a lesson with the kids. So, when I realized how many questions I had lingering after the farmer had left, I thought what I perfect opportunity to talk to the kids about this! So we decided to tell the kids about the crop duster we were probably going to see during our time together, why the farmers said they were going to do it, & explain, in a round about way, why we closed up our beehive for the day.

After the parents left, we began our time together as we always do, with what we call circle round. We all take turns sharing what we have noticed outside since we have seen each other last & anyone new introduces themselves. Sometimes we are in the grass, sometimes in the barn, or around a fire pit, but this time we were in the workshop. This week, lots of kids talked about the beautiful flowers they were noticing around their homes & in town. After we were all done sharing, I asked them if they knew what an insecticide was & together, they came to a pretty good definition. John & I began to explain that a crop duster would probably be spraying the field near us today & that we wanted to talk about what that meant.
When I asked the kids what would happen when they sprayed, the kids drew accurate conclusions-and worries. We talked about the different ways pesticides could be applied-contact or systemic. I showed the kids pictures of Weevils & asked the kids what non-target species they thought could be affected by the spray. They talked about birds, the incoming Monarchs, other insects, and even made the connections with worms…..saying that the farmers could really be hurting their soil then, by killing the hard-working earthworms!
Then, I read the National Geographic article I found that had big news about insecticides. (You can find that article here) Last month, the EU banned ‘the world’s most widely used insecticides in an effort to protect bees and other valuable pollinator insects’

This gave us a chance to show the kids on the map, what countries were taking action, explain the world-wide problem of pollinator decline, & wonder lots of things like, ‘Why isn’t our government doing something?’ If you want to know what pollinators need help in your area, go to this site & you can search by zip code. Here in Plymouth, I was able to pull up a list(that I showed to the kids in pictures) of the bees. The kids were amazed at how many different kinds of bumble bees there were and we all decided to keep a look out for the Rusty Patched Bumblebee to see if we could sketch one together. It was also another great opportunity to talk about how our honeybees are not native & show on the map where ours come from-all the way from Russia.

We headed to the end of our discussion by asking the kids to consider why the farmers still used this technique? I found it interesting that the kids all said that they thought the farmers weren’t thinking, that they must not know what they were doing or that they weren’t being mindful about it. (This is something we talk a lot about around here-mindfulness). So I posed questions that also gave them a reflection of our neighbors in a compassionate light, asking them if their caregivers did things to make money for their family. We all talked about how the farmers must have a family of their own or at least must need money of their own & that maybe the kids were right, maybe they were paying bills instead of being mindful.

‘So what can we do about all of this?’ I asked. Their responses were nothing short of amazing. One child said, ‘Well, everyone could stop buying them(pesticides) from the store because if the company that makes them doesn’t sell any, they will definitely stop making them’. Another child talked about how we could talk about it with others, how us talking about it could lead to them sharing it with some one else and so forth. Another suggested that scientist should find a way to make a more targeted product. Another said we could talk to the farmers.
And then I posed the question of growing more plants that our bees would love and asked if they wanted to plant some with us? So we headed over to our new herb garden, with the beehive in it. The kids got to work tilling up the soil & then we tossed out the seeds around the closed hive. Can you believe, John & I sat in the workshop with seven kids, ages 4-10 years old, talking about pesticides-for OVER AN HOUR! We never once had to make a child stay, we never once had a child ask to move on. I think a big reason why this was able to happen is because the children were with adults who they knew would listen to them as much as they would talk to them. Kids are amazing & I just can’t state enough how proud I am of ourselves for persisting & creating this opportunity to teach & learn with them & to the parents who entrust us with their precious littles.

So for the rest of our day together, we hiked the trails, sketched Sweet Cicely in our nature journals, played in the water, & made tea from plants we foraged on our walk.

While we were sketching, one of the children wondered if the dead honeybee with it’s tongue sticking out that we sketched last week had died because it ate something that wasn’t good for it.

Sweet Cicely, Stinging Nettle, Cleavers, Creeping Charlie, & Mint we foraged from our Food Forest for tea together.

The crop duster never did come that day, it was too windy. So we closed up the hive the next day, and the next day, and the next day. Each night we opened the hive door to find quite a few dead bees, something we were obviously not happy about. So Saturday we called the Ecologist on the farm to say that we were grateful for the heads up, but when exactly would they be spraying so we could plan? We were surprised to find out that the ecologist knew nothing of the fact that they would be spraying insecticides. It’s accurate to say we were blown off & told that they would get back to us on Tuesday. I suppose maybe after that person got off the phone they thought about how they would feel if it were their honey bees & a little later we did receive a text letting us know we would ‘get a holler when the crop duster was coming’. So we decided to trust them, even though past history said we shouldn’t, & Sunday morning we opened the door & let the bees be. That day Lilly found our first clover flower in the yard, a sign that the clover they had planted in the hay field next to us was probably bursting with sweet nectar & full of our bees.

We never got that holler. Sunday evening we watched helplessly as they not only sprayed the back, further away from us field that they told us they were going to spray, but they also sprayed the hay field right next to our barn.

It’s true, there are no laws stating that they must notify us. It’s true, you take your own risk when you invest in honeybees. For us it’s not really about the honey, it’s about education, adding diversity to our farm, & trying to ‘do our part.’Â
As I stood & watched with our children, I thought to a time when I had seen it as a child. I remember watching in awe, excitement…it was so cool to imagine being in that plane! Now, as an adult, watching chemicals (that other places in our world ban) being dumped right next to our home, as our pigs grazed-unfazed & the chickens pecked away, I felt ashamed of humans. How inefficient! That plane was SO high above the ground. I’m serious when I say I can’t believe it is legal in the setting it was used in. We consider ourselves more clever than this, don’t we!? Think of all the wild bees, the praying mantises, the Monarchs we collect every year from the Milkweed along the road & raise ourselves, the life in that field! The life that they are suppressing to make a buck. And I know, I know they are a business, they must make a profit, but again, don’t we consider ourselves a species above the rest? Can’t we have both? And doesn’t this very same organization claim to uphold their religious duty to protect our home here?
We try to be mindful about everything we do & think here. We are not perfect & we fail & we are always in a state of learning. We know that big scale farming is MUCH different from ‘hobby’ farming or whatever you would like to call it, but to the local farm who continues to fail us, no matter how ‘neighborly’ we are, if you are going to put your stamp on every tree-hugging thing you can get your hands on in the area, walk the walk. Purdue lists the insecticide that was used (lambda-cyhalothrin) in the category of the most highly toxic pesticide to honey bees. This is definetly not the first time we have been told one thing & seen another from this farm….our property, where we eat cultivated & wild food with our children & other family’s children daily, has been sprayed over our fence before with chemicals & I need to say ‘out loud’ that THIS IS NOT OK. This is not the relationship I want to have with our neighbors. These incidents are not the examples I want to be able to give to children when talking about the big farmers in our community. And if you wanna go long term, this is not the kind of human behavior that will further the advancement, or even existence, of our species. I am not a wild, hippie momma on a rampage, we….we humans, all of us….have a problem with pollinators not thriving as they should, it is a fact. We can do better. And I know, I can hear it now- it’s easy for me to say that, I’m not the one trying to budget the books. I am not all rose-colored glasses about economics & food production & I don’t claim to be an expert. Believe it or not-I do not believe Organic is the answer. I think a lot of the actual rules for certified Organic are bonkers. My gut tells me diversity is the answer, but what I do know for sure is that I have to believe that we humans are capable of creating profitable, working systems that are able to create a much more minimal effect to our fragile ecosystems. That take into consideration the water, the worms, & the wings, instead of only thinking to the profit. I’ve been told multiple times before that I need to be careful about speaking out about a large company like this, but if somebody out there needs a little waking up, I’ll gladly be the one to put myself out there & take the risk because I’m really sad to have to tell the kids how this all played out.

That field is the backdrop to my children’s daily adventures. It’s the most fragile, beautiful summer night you’ve ever seen, with fireflies aglow & the breeze whispering through. It’s also the toughest, coldest, rolling quiet covered in white. I was going to end this note to you all with a vow to raise children who look to the whole picture when they see things like a crop duster swooping over the waving fields, but I don’t need to work on them to do that. Children already exist IN nature, it’s the adults who mostly operate as if it is something separate from ourselves. I need to continue to listen to their wonders. To wonder what is possible with them. I’m reflecting back to when the kids were mad at the pilot for spraying and I said to Henry, ‘Oh, he’s just doing his job. It’s the farm who hired him.’ But what if we all did jobs we felt good about? What if we all encouraged kids to do what brings them & our world joy? It’s not a pipe dream. Like our Lilly said, ‘….everyone could stop buying them from the store because if the company that makes them doesn’t sell any, they will definitely stop making them’.
What could I stop supporting, that I don’t agree with?
What could you stop doing, that you don’t agree with?
Where could you invest more of your energy, that you would feel good about?

Thanks for reading, Friends.

5 thoughts on “Honeybees, Crop Dusters, & Little, Listening Ears

  1. Hi, I just skimmed through this, but your experience with the kids is amazing! A whole hour and more! I love that you had compassion for the farmers as well. It was so painful to read about the fields being sprayed. I don’t know what to do, except to be conscious of what I buy, educate people, and share what I can. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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  2. Thank you so much! We really appreciate that…unfortunately it happened again on Friday & a lot of our bees came back dying. It has been a learning experience for us all here, for sure.

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    1. That is heartbreaking!

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  3. Thanks for doing what you do. We have a similar project here is Michigan but we are working with a small school district and started a garden club at the elementary school. We’ll be starting a second one at the middle school this year. Lots of interest and excited kids. Come and See Farm facebook page has recent pictures. TOTALLY get what you say about crop dusters. We hate them. Lost our bees the first year, now thinking of moving it closer to the house. Keep going. The course is bumpy and isolating but it’s no surprise to me that there are many of us our here starting similar projects. There are those of us who literally have our ears (and hearts) close to the ground.

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