What We Can Learn from the Honey Bees with Anne Marie Fauvel
By Sarah Anderson
It has been said that the most fortunate people in life are those that have found their calling. Sitting in Anne Marie Fauvel’s office inside The Apiary (a collection of beehives) at the Meijer Campus in Holland, sipping coffee sweetened with honey (of course), watching as she lights up discussing the intricate details of honeybees, it’s clear that Fauvel has found hers. Full of passion, insight and knowledge, she brazenly shares her ardor for these tiny buzzing beings and her understanding of their world.
Women’s Lifestyle Magazine: What’s your job title and what do you do?
Anne Marie Fauvel:
I formerly was an affiliate professor at Grand Valley State University. I taught in the Biology Department, the Liberal Studies Department as well as the Environmental Studies Department. I was teaching on environmental issues focusing on food systems, and then I fell in love with bees. I brought an apiary here to campus and started doing undergraduate research projects with my students. I collaborated with other universities and programs around the nation. One of them in particular was the Bee Informed Partnership.
WLM: What is the Bee Informed Partnership?
AMF: It is a nonprofit organization under the umbrella of the University of Maryland. We work with commercial beekeepers and agricultural entities like the Almond Board, or any kind of other crops that need pollination from bees. We work with a experts and do trials. We service commercial beekeepers, but what we mainly do is collect data to look at trends over time of colony loss, colony health, best management practices and more.
WLM: What started your love of bees?
AMF: As an ecologist, I was working a lot with the environment and the natural world, and I became really interested in food systems. A lot of people were talking about food at the time, and a huge pillar of our food system is our bees. I went to a neighbor who took a class and started a beehive. I told her I was interested in bees and asked if she would take me into the hive. She took me in. I lifted the cover of the beehive, and I looked in there and fell in love; there’s an entire world in that box that you know nothing about.
Ten years later, I’m still in love with them, and I still don’t understand everything. They baffle me and keep me on my toes on a daily basis. They make me really appreciate the world around me.
WLM: What is affecting the bee population right now?
AMF: It’s a very complex issue. We haven’t figured it all out yet. There is a lot of pressure on bees right now; they are trucked all throughout the US to do pollination events where every single beehive in the US goes into the almond groves (or another crop), and then they split up to go across the rest of the country to either do another pollination event or produce honey in the north. Bees are transported very long distances.
They fly for a long time and by the time they find something to eat, often times it has been sprayed with pesticides or fungicides They gather some of those chemicals and fly all the way back to the hive and get sick. The pressure on the bees is so high that they tend to get sick easier. They have less habitat to forage on and less good nutrition. They have all these pesticides to deal with and chemicals to clean out of their body, and they have all these diseases that they’re having a hard time fighting.
According to the National Colony survey, we lose an average of 35 percent of our hives here in the US.
WLM: What can people do to help?
AMF: Plant trees. Maples and willows are sources of pollen for bees, and one American beech tree can feed an entire colony of bees. You will have more of an impact planting trees than you would have
WLM: What about at-home beekeepers?
AMF: There’s a huge resurgence right now of hobby beekeepers, and it’s a wonderful thing to see people so interested in bees. Keeping bees is not an easy hobby, but if you want to have them in your yard to pollinate your own garden, it’s great. It’s really important for hobby beekeepers to get educated, find a mentor, regularly attend to local club meetings, go to conferences and read as much as they can read because there is steep learning curve.
WLM: What is something you wish people knew?
AMF: Honeybees are essential to our food supply.
One out of every three bites we take is directly related to the honey bee. As a consumer, you have an impact on the bees with what you eat. Eat less processed food; eat locally-grown food if that’s possible for you.
WLM: What do you hope to be the greater impact of your work?
AMF: We can learn a lesson from the bees; they are highly collaborative. They have one queen that lays a bunch of eggs and makes worker bees. The worker bees are the ones that make all the decisions and work hard for the good of the colony. I think that a lot of us in the world are collaborating now instead of staying in our labs doing our own thing. We’re really starting to understand that the only way to solve this complex issue is to work together. If I can do anything to help in this collaboration, I would hope that it would have a communal impact. All I want to be is a worker bee, foraging as much as I can and trying to provide for my colony. I want to be part of that solution instead of just watching it go by.