The Buzz on Local Bees
A swarm of local activity seeks to protect pollinators
While honeybees aren't specifically covered for protection under the Endangered Species Act yet, the recent move to protect some breeds – a first for any U.S. bees – is still a major win for conservationists. The proclamation only covers seven species of yellow-faced bees native to Hawaii, and the mainland-located rusty patched bumblebee remains a possible addition. Still, the boosted public awareness of the plight of wild bees makes a difference in protecting our food system, and three local organizations have upcoming events aimed at spreading the news.
The American Honey Bee Protection Agency stepped outside the box with a new fundraising event: the Queen Bee Drag Show, happening today (Oct. 13) at Grizzly Hall. Courtney Ray Goodson, executive director of AHBPA, said via email, "It felt so perfect and fun to combine two of the best Queen Bee Communities in Austin!" Sabel Scities, Colleen Deforrest, and Cupcake will perform, and the funds go primarily to support the org's pro-bono bee removals. This summer, CEO Walter Schumacher helped pass a resolution in the Texas Legislature that made the honeybee the official state pollinator of Texas.
AHBPA also supports the bees through their honey network, Epic Honey Co-op, and one of the partners, Chris Douglas of Lone Star Africa Works, knows firsthand the power of beekeeping after years of work to connect "South Sudanese farmers with Texas buyers for their natural honey and shea," and then get the honey onto shelves in Central Market. Civil unrest and fighting recently resumed in South Sudan, terribly complicating the exchange, and endangering both the beekeepers and their hives. "Honey enterprises like the one we helped start are making a positive difference in South Sudan, [but] we've had to change direction from our original plan of exporting from South Sudan to Texas and local markets in East Africa," he explains. Douglas is participating in the Austin-Africa Social Entrepreneurship Forum this weekend.
"That focus on local roots and local resources is why the honey project keeps running, why they were able to put money from that first major honey sale into a local farm and get that farm's produce to market, even with the civil war going on around them. ... We've got to showcase the things that work and talk about the things that don't work as well." The event is free and open to the public.
With bee education, hive tours, and honey sampling, next weekend's Honey Fest with Tara Chapman of Two Hives Honey and Texas Keeper Cider is a solid bet. Texas Keeper's Lindsey Peebles said via email, "I love Two Hives Honey's beekeeping philosophy. From a culinary perspective, she's harvesting these hyper-local honeys that all have their own unique flavor profiles even when they're harvested only a few miles apart from each other – it's the ultimate in honey 'terroir.' ... Bees are absolutely incredible and honey is just this wonderful, ancient nectar that is so useful and delicious."
Texas Keeper, whose Grafter Rosé cider is snatched up by the case when available, will be releasing their first cyser. It's "an old beverage made by fermenting apple with honey," Peebles explained. "We fermented dry honeycrisp apples, then double fermented with Good Flow honey, then back-sweetened at the end with just a touch more honey. It's a crisp, dry cider – the honeycrisp imparts notes of nectarine, but that honey at the end gives it a silky finish and some wonderful floral flavors.
"It's important for people to know just how crucial bees and all pollinators are to our own survival. Without pollination, plants don't produce fruits and vegetables – it's as simple as that. So we owe them a lot of gratitude! Everyone knows that bees and other pollinators are under threat these days so as an added bonus, I hope people leave the festival with even more respect for and knowledge about bees and what they can do to help preserve a world that is bee-friendly."