“Can I tell you a little about bees?” asks
Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist with the
Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington,
D.C., who keeps honeybees in the backyard of her home
in Garrett Park, Md. “Bees are fascinating. It takes 30 bees
an entire lifespan to make a teaspoon of honey. Workers only
live three months. The queen lives for several years. Busy as
a beaver has nothing on busy as a bee.”
Sass initially became a beekeeper as a result of her policy
work focusing on pesticides and their relationship to
bees. “I knew pesticides were most toxic to bees.
Then I started to hear about Colony Collapse
Disorder (CCD), as beekeepers kept coming to the
EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] to ask it to do
something about pesticides,” she says.
And now the main players are part of the EPA’s pollinator work
group. “It meets about once a month,” Sass says, happy that the
government’s pesticide office now includes all the stakeholders in
its discussions, including chemical companies, beekeepers,
agricultural workers, small farmers and big producers, as
well as scientists and the environmental community.
Sass has been working on the bee issue for the
past five years. “From a practical standpoint,
nothing has changed. So far, no pesticides have
been banned, but there has been a huge change
in consciousness. Everybody knows the bees are
disappearing, and everybody knows we don’t know why. But
in my opinion, since we know for a fact that many pesticides are
highly toxic to bees, those pesticides shouldn’t be used.
“We know pesticides are found in the bodies of bees and in
the hives and in the honey. We know bees are vulnerable to
pesticides, because they actually go into the flowers,
coating themselves with these chemicals. It’s not
a real big leap to say it’s affecting them. We don’t
know if pesticides are related to CCD, but we do know
the bees are being exposed to substances that are toxic to
them. So I say, don’t use these substances. After all, nothing
is more fundamental to crops than pollinators, what I call the “B”
group: bees, butterflies, bats and moths.”
And, as Sass suggests, even if pesticides themselves are not
directly related to CCD, they might intensify the ability of
other suspected villains to attack the bees. “We don’t
know for sure, but we believe pesticides are leading
to a weakened immune system, making the
bees more susceptible to microbes, viruses,
funguses and other diseases,” she says.
When executive chef/co-owner Paul Fehribach of Big Jones,
Chicago, dives into his memory bank, he pays tribute to his
grandmother’s favorite vegetable, cauliflower. And at the same
time, he is celebrating the work of the bees that pollinated it.
Naturally, he serves it just the way she loved it: chicken deep-fried with creamy grits, giardiniera and pimiento butter, evoking
his coastal Southern heritage, as does using gallberry honey to
flavor his honey cake. “It’s terrifying that we could lose honey,
cauliflower and the endless foods pollinated by bees,” he says.
Growing up amidst apple, cherry and pear trees in his mother’s
garden, John Raymond, chef/owner of Roots Restaurant and Cellar
in Milwaukee, was inspired to become a chef thanks to the work
of these industrious toilers. “I hated to pit cherries, pick apples
and weed broccoli, but I loved my mother’s apple pies, her cherry
cobblers and her broccoli and cheese casseroles,” he says. “All my
early culinary recollections involve foods pollinated by bees.”
“Without the bees, I couldn’t do my work. I would only be able to
have bread, and little else,” says Laurey Masterton, chef/owner of
Laurey’s Gourmet Comfort Food, a cafe and catering company
in Asheville, N.C. A beekeeper, Masterton uses cranberries,
blackberries and blueberries in her jams and chutneys, all foods
pollinated by honeybees. Her pantry and walk-in are full of
apples, avocados, broccoli and kale, thanks to the bees.
And Masterton knows just how much she owes to them.
“Bees pollinate more than 90 commonly eaten fruits, nuts
and vegetables and about a third of the foods we eat,” she says.
Gabriel Mandel, a student at The Culinary Institute of
America, Hyde Park, N.Y., has no reason to be nostalgic for
home. Memories flood him when he opens a jar of honey
produced by beekeeper Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist with
the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C.
Mandel met Sass when he was growing up in Garrett Park,
Md. Today, the two keep in touch thanks to Sass’ honey.
Recently, Mandel opened a jar that included a list of all the
flowers and plants pollinated by Sass’ bees. “It was a sweet
little piece of home in a mason jar,” he says. “And every time
I use that honey, the smell of azaleas and tulip poplars brings
me right back to Garrett Park.”
on the case of CCD
While we dream and evoke our childhoods, the creators of our
happiness—honeybees—live and die under ongoing stress