For the latest update on helping the honey bee, please see: This post from February 1st, 2010.

As we sat down to lunch at a Manhattan diner last week, my friend said simply, “I’m worried about the honey bees.”  I knew exactly what he meant: our honey bees are dying out and people are not sure why.  The scientists call it Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).  In some instances, commercial beekeepers say a full third of their hives have died in the past few seasons.  It can seem like a small matter, but in earning their reputation as diligent workers, bees build the world we know.  But what can we do?

Luckily, in the words of the poet June Jordan, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”  We have a world to fix and it’s time for the Do-It-Yourself approach.  In the case of beekeeping, people like Sam Comfort will show us the way.  I heard his talk last month at the Germantown Community Farm Skillshare, an all-day event that put the rubber to the road for sustainable farm practices.  This month he’s in a Discovery Magazine article entitled, “Who Killed the Honeybees? We Did.”  The “we” here are large-scale beekeeping businesses that routinely send out hundreds of hives to pollinate a single orchard or crop.  By lumping all the bees together and not giving them diverse species for pollination, the bees get sickly and die.

Comfort refutes this system and instead sees the solution in creating “an infrastructure of small-scale beekeepers.”  His company, Anarchy Apiaries,  is about letting “the bees do their thing.”  Take them out of the monoculture environment and open up their food sources again.  To learn more — and be inspired — see the Discovery Magazine article linked above.  Then perhaps we’ll see each other in Sam’s circle next spring.

Sam Comfort addresses a crowd at the Skillshare; one woman inspects a honeycomb

Sam Comfort at the Germantown Community Farm Skillshare

Handmade Hives of Anarchy in the Grass

Handmade Hives of Anarchy by Sam

I never cared about baseball until Game 7 of the 2004 American League Championship Series: Red Sox vs. Yankees.

A dear friend from Boston had spent weeks explaining the trials of his beloved Sox to our crew.  Without him, Game 7 was just another game in a little known perennial season.  But our friend gave it context, and thus, we cared.  When Johnny Damon hit a grand slam and shot the Sox towards the World Series, we all leapt up and embraced like the war had been won.

I had a similar experience – minus the hugs – on Saturday while listening to Rafter Sass talk about mushrooms.  Sass’ passion reminded me that when we share our knowledge of something we love, we inspire others to care, too.

His lecture was a part of a day-long Skillshare at the Germantown Community Farm.  The farm, located in the Catskills, held a series of workshops under the guiding principle of Do-It-Yourself Agriculture.  The audience listened in a barn classroom; as the crowd grew, people overturned buckets to make seats.

What’s cool about mushrooms?  Answer: the potential for cultivating them ourselves.  As people bring our food sources closer to home – digging deep in our gardens, hosting cheese-making parties, and keeping bees on the rooftop, for example – we’ve overlooked mushrooms.  To get them so far, we’ve either 1) foraged in the woods, which is fun, but unpredictable and uncommon or 2) bought the cellophane-wrapped products of industrial processing.  There has yet to be a middle ground.

Sass has a new approach and he calls it “mycoscaping.”  It is the Do-It-Yourself manner of mushrooms. It comes from his appreciation of permaculture, or the observation of wild eco-systems and our recreation of them.  Mycoscaping means cultivating mushrooms somewhat systematically (and locally) while simulating the environment in which they thrive.  As one example, he demonstrated a case where he had grown wine cap mushrooms in the mulch of a client’s garden.  In another, he grew them in the tree crevices of a new orchard.  A different slide showed elegant wood logs in a client’s kitchen growing mushrooms like organic artwork.

In Sass’ words, it’s time for mushrooms to be a part of our “local food sovereignty,” and he’s bringing the food to its “growing edge.”

Rafter Sass Presents in the Barn Classroom

Rafter Sass Presents in the Barn Classroom

Image of Farm Sustainability: Electric Fence via Solar Power

Image of Farm Sustainability: Electric Fence via Solar Power

Nighttime on the Farm & Dinner is Served; Grab the Fiddle - Contra Dancing is Next!

Nighttime on the Farm & Dinner is Served; Grab the Fiddle - Contra Dancing is Next!