Updated: Mar 5, 2022
Taking action while we still have a choice
The experiment seems simple.
1) Google "almond grower who keeps bees".
2) Get an uncomfortable education about the state of things (or you can save yourself the screen time and just go to the *spoiler* below for an abbreviated version).
3) Ask friends for recommendations and send the following email to each of the companies recommended (the message is identical for each company, to provide the neutral control element):
I was sent to your website by a friend and after doing a quick scan I’m not seeing any information about how your almonds are pollinated.
Would you kindly illuminate me on this matter before I make my purchase?"
4) Examine the response for evidence.
Ideal candidates (I haven't encountered any yet, but I insist on staying hopeful) will be forthcoming with all they are doing that we will want to be hearing: "Our almonds are pollinated by bees who live on the property year-round, who have ample forage when the almonds aren't in bloom, and are tended to by mindful caregivers who value their role in the overall health of our property"... or something like that.
More likely, companies will take 7 or more exchanges before admitting that even if they "have hives" (most don't) they also use "bees that arrive on trucks" and "bees that visit a lot of other ranches". One I checked out two days ago advertises on their site that the bees who pollinate their almonds "start their life cycle" on the ranch in California, where the almond nectar is responsible for the great taste of their honey (which is produced in Montana). Finding out how the bees get from California to Montana took five email exchanges (on trucks, with other bees making the nation-wide circuit).
For those following along who are wondering why all the fuss, you can either do step one of the experiment, or read this:
*Spoiler*: Between 50- 85% of the US bee population is trucked to California for the express purposes of pollinating monoculture almonds. After that, they are zig-zagged across the nation and back on flatbed trucks, wrapped in cellophane, to provide "pollination services" to one monoculture after another and racking up thousands and thousands of miles a year. Did I mention that honeybees are creatures who are almost exquisitely oriented to one specific point in all of nature, which is the opening of their hive? The workers rarely travel more than three miles from their home in any direction, and moving their hive even more than a foot at a time can be disorienting to them (which is also why it's best to approach hives from the side... if you're standing in front of their hive entrance they may huddle around your head, which many people interpret as an attack... when the truth may really be that they were almost home when the entrance disappeared because your head is in the way!).
This relentless trucking is only one of the many ways that humankind is systematically damaging the wellbeing of these tiny creatures, who are dying off at a rate faster than the dinosaurs (and who, unlike the dinosaurs, make possible an astonishing amount of our food supply).
Oh, and in the last year the US lost 60% of its bee population (according to the commercial and hobby census conducted each April). Like I said, this is only ONE of the artificial practices impacting their wellbeing (setting aside pesticides and mites even... because mites are Nature's way of taking care of what's been weakened... and we are the ones weakening them!) If, as was predicted back in 1924, we don't stop these artificial manipulations of the bees we may not have them in 2024 (pollinating most of our food supply). I don't do math as a general rule, but I know those numbers mean I don't eat almonds any more. (Also that we have less than 4 years to turn this crisis around).
Right now I can choose to boycott almonds, until I find a producer who has the future in mind and actually tends properly to all of the bees pollinating their crops, by providing year-round forage and care instead of the monoculture-and-trucked-bees model.
One person sacrificing one food, while it's still a choice.
I make this choice for the bees, yes. And also to raise awareness that, unless we all choose to develop a taste for strictly air-pollinated crops (wheat, rice, corn, rye, barley, oats), the time to act on this crisis is now... not, as a mentor recently stated, after one more round of Scrabble.