Are you in search of a new hobby? Do you remain stoic while a bee sends your friend fleeing for the hills? Do you want to protect our food supply?
If so, Arizona State University’s new beekeeping courses might be for you. Researchers at ASU’s Honey Bee Research Lab are trying to fight the honey bee crisis by launching new hobby beekeeping classes that are open to the public.
The courses, which are open to the public, range from introduction to beekeeping to more advanced lessons on royal jelly production (a wikipedia page which you should definitely explore further).
Bees play a key role in protecting our food supply and The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of food worldwide, 71 are pollinated by bees.
While there are 20,000 species of bees worldwide, honey bees are particularly important for our food supply — 70% of plants wouldn’t reproduce without honey bees, and we wouldn’t have almonds, apples, avocados, cherries, or watermelon.
This honey bee-less future isn’t just a hypothetical either, it could be our future reality. We are losing 40% of the American honey bee population each year.
Researchers say there is no one cause for the global bee decline, but instead several causes, including industrial agriculture, climate change, the destruction of habitats and bee-killing pesticides.
Pesticides in particular pose a huge threat to honeybees. A 2010 study found that two-thirds of hives surveyed in the U.S. and Canada contained at least one synthetic pesticide. The most dangerous is a class of insecticide called neonicotinoids (or neonics), which have been found to short-circuit bees’ memory and navigation and are 6,000 times more toxic to bees than the traditional insecticide DDT.
What happens if bees disappear altogether? As Environment America, a federation of state-based environmental advocacy organizations, puts it: “It’s simple: No bees, no food.”
Cahit Ozturk, the lab manager at ASU’s Polytechnic Campus in Mesa, agrees. Ozturk told ABC15 the decline of bees is a direct threat to our food supply and without significant action, the entire bee population could be gone in a decade.
The Environmental Protection Agency, which theoretically is charged with protecting the environment, has instead opted to exacerbate the issue under President Trump, announcing in July that it would allow expanded use of the pesticide sulfoxaflor, despite the fact that the agency itself has described sulfoxaflor as “very highly toxic” to bees.
The EPA’s decision sparked a lawsuit from leaders in the beekeeping industry, including the Pollinator Stewardship Council and the American Beekeeping Federation.
The EPA also extended approval of weed killer dicamba for use on genetically modified soybeans and corn, despite warnings from scientists that dicamba would drift from fields and kill weeds that are critical to honeybees.
Trump’s Department of Agriculture has also suspended data collection for its Honey Bee Colonies survey, providing further evidence to researchers and bee advocates that the Trump administration is not concerned with the potentially catastrophic risk that the decline of bees pose not just to the environment, but to the human food supply.
Ozturk and ASU are concerned, however, which is why they launched their beekeeping classes; Ozturk hopes to encourage hobby beekeepers to install hives in their backyard to help stave off the collapse of bees.
Ozturk says beekeeping provides benefits for everyone. “They’re going to collect their food from your environment. At the same time, they will give us pollination services,” he told ABC15.
He also says that anyone can learn to be a beekeeper — that’s what the classes are for, after all — but if that doesn’t pique your interest, there are other ways to help, too.
Ozturk says people should avoid using harmful pesticides in their yards and can plant bee-friendly plants to provide bees with food.
You can learn more about ASU’s bee courses here. The first one begins October 12.