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

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Garlic with your toothpick?

Toothpick with your garlic?

I’m not sure why, but this came as news to me:  Plants and vegetables go extinct just like animals.  In her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver writes, “In Peru, the original home of potatoes, Andean farmers once grew some four thousand potato varieties, each with its own name, flavor, and use….Now, even in the regions of Peru least affected by the modern market, only a few dozen potato varieties are widely grown.”

This story is being replayed in fields around the world as our global crops condense.  Industrial corn and soy beans lead the way, knocking many colorful lineages out of the dirt.  The good news is we have organizations like the Seed Savers Exchange of Decorah, Iowa, a “Fort Knox” of heritage seeds, to help undermine the monoculture crops.  The best road to salvation for heirloom produce is fun to travel:  We need eat it!  Get a demand going for these unique characters, keep their seeds, and plant them again next year.

With this in mind, I headed to the 21st Annual Saugerties Garlic Festival in upstate New York.  I’ll admit that I always figured there was only one kind of garlic.  Turns out there are hundreds…ahem, several (see sign below) varieties available in the Northeast.  Nor is garlic just for stir-frys and staving off vampires.  My friend and I tried garlic chowder, mozzarella cheese infused with garlic, a garlic-stuffed pretzel, garlic-sauteed mushrooms, garlic ice cream–and he did a garlic shot.  Also, nearly every farmer promotes his garlic with a hosting trick that’s hard to imagine in one’s own home:  Little plates of garlic to be sampled with toothpicks.  Through it all, I learned that my favorite garlic is Spanish Roja.  It’s earthy and warm without the pungency that I never knew I could skip.

As we were discussing our discovery of heirloom varieties, my friend summed it up:  When we were kids, we recognized diversity in food “based on cans and labels.”  Tomato sauce was Prego vs. Ragu.  Who knew what type of tomato went into it?

Thinking of how our next generation will know their food, I plucked a slice of German White garlic off the plate and savored the abundance of our heritage.

Ahem, Correction

Ahem, Correction

Garlic Shot: Old Friend = New Man!

Garlic Shot = New Man!

After this grimace, came a new outlook on life. A spring in his step and a declaration that the rain was "pure liquid sunshine."

After this grimace, came a new outlook on life...a spring in his step and a declaration that the falling rain was "pure liquid sunshine."

See It to Believe It

See It to Believe It