3.12.2020

MIGRATORY BEEKEEPERS // the local food report

Right now in California, twenty-five hundred miles away, a million acres of almond trees are blooming. A million! Here's what it looks like, in photos from documentary producer Peter Nelson:

Photos Courtesy Peter Nelson
Farming on this scale is difficult for me to imagine, living on Cape Cod. The sea is a mile and a half from my house in either direction; we are a tiny ribbon of a peninsula. A million acres of anything is impossible. And yet it's a very real scale in other parts of the country. 

This week for the Local Food Report I interviewed Peter Nelson. He's from Hudson, New York, and in addition to film-making, he's also a backyard beekeeper. He became fascinated with migratory beekeepers—honeybee keepers who travel all over the country with their bees on semi-trailers—pollinating big crops all over the United States. He made a film about his experience called The Pollinators, and these are stills from the documentary. 


Most people have no idea migratory beekeepers even exist—they do their work at night, moving bees while they're all back in the hive and unloading into orchards and fields in the dark—let alone how important they are to our huge, industrial food system. Almost every migratory hive in the United States is in California right now, pollinating the almonds. Soon enough some of them will be here, unloaded next to the cranberries. They pollinate over 400 crops, some completely dependent on pollinators to set fruit, others with greatly improved yields. One of the migratory beekeeping businesses featured in the film is just north of Boston, and farmers are relying on them more and more as native pollinators struggle.

It turns out here in Massachusetts, bumble bees are more efficient pollinators for crops like cranberries. But while historically the state had 11 species of native bumble bees, today we're down to 7, and all but 1 of those 7 are in decline. Massachusetts now has a Pollinator Plan, and scientists from four New England states have joined together to research and issue recommendations.

The Pollinators is showing this Saturday, March 7th in Woods Hole, and again on Wednesday, April 8th at the Wellfleet Cinemas. Both showings will have a live Q & A with Peter Nelson afterwards. If you're around, it's a fascinating look into a little known seasonal dance.



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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.