Asheville, North Carolina, has long described itself as Beer City, USA, but fairly recently it dropped the “r” and became Bee City as well. About ten years ago, beekeepers around North America began to notice that entire colonies of honeybees were dying off mysteriously. This phenomenon became known as colony collapse disorder and has been a great concern ever since. As primary pollinators, insects are responsible for the growth of one third of the food we eat, and 85 percent of all flowering plants and trees rely on active pollination to ensure the survival of their species. In other words, bees carry a lot of responsibility on those tiny little legs, where they store the pollen as they flit from flower to flower.
Recognizing the importance of preserving the health of our bee buddies, the city of Asheville decided to take action in 2012 and declared itself Bee City, USA. Surrounded by almost a million acres of national parklands and blessed with one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on earth, Asheville has long had a tradition of beekeeping and honey production. The city has honey bars for tasting and festivals to celebrate the sweet syrup, and it’s the home to the original Tupelo Honey Cafe, a fine spot for Southern food and drink.
The city is also home to the Center for Honey Bee Research, an institute established to educate beekeepers and the general public on the importance of apinae to our ecosystem and to set up labs to study the general health of the species. The Center also promotes healthy beekeeping practices, such as leaving enough honey and pollen in the hive to stave off starvation for the colony, a practice that, surprisingly, is not the norm in some production honey operations. The institute also helps to track and encourage genetic diversity in hive stocks to promote hybrid vigor in the face of changing environments.
Since dubbing itself “the first” Bee City, Asheville has recruited other communities to join it in the designation. Four other North Carolina towns have declared themselves friends of the bee, along with three Oregon towns and one each in Washington, Michigan and Kentucky. Seattle is the largest Bee City, having joined in May of 2015 after passing an ordinance that prohibits use of neonicotinoid-based pesticides on all city-owned and -operated lands. Neonicotinoid-based pesticides have been linked with harm to critical pollinating insects.
So kudos to Asheville and all who are working to preserve this crucial link in the food chain. The next time you see a bee, treat it with some respect. (Unless it’s a sweat bee. Go ahead and swat those little sum’bitches!)