Honeybees play an intrinsic role in the life cycle of many plants humans depend on for survival.

At a transition town potluck in Vancouver during an Olympics men’s hockey playoff game last week, I met a family who tend honeybees in their own backyard. I wanted to learn more about why honeybees are dying off and my beekeeping neighbor gave me some sobering information.

Honeybees in California pollinate large commercial fields of almond trees. They are shipped to the farms at the right time for the almonds but not for the bees. The bees are over-tired and this is contributing to alarming rates of bee death on commercial almond farms. At lunchtime the next day, I felt grief-stricken to the point of losing my appetite at the sight of my stash of raw almonds. I wondered if these almonds come from California? Am I killing bees by eating almonds? How sad!

In the evening, I went to Yek-O-Yek, a neighborhood grocer/deli on Main St. owned and run by an Iranian family here. In the nut section, while pondering almonds, it occurred to me to ask the owner's brother-in-law Cyrus, "Where do your almonds come from?"

"Persia," he said, "Iran." I told him the tale I'd heard of almonds and bees in California. He wasn't certain but he thought Iranian bees were free. With this assurance, I cheered up and bought some of the Persian lemon roasted whole almonds.

Walking home down Main, I ran into Adam, the owner, returning to Yek-O-Yek. I filled him in on what I’d been learning about almonds and honeybees.

His answer to what are Persian (Iranian) farming practices: "They’re free. The bees are free. But the people are not." As I met his hearty gaze, with wonderment at the speed of his mind to create humour out of misery, he continued, "It’s the other way around. In California the people are free and the bees are not. Which way do you want it?” 

We laughed at his wit and shared a moment of camaraderie about this koan of life, then each continued in our own direction.

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Before publishing, I emailed Dr Nicola Bradbear, Director, Bees for Development Trust to check the facts in this story. Here is her reply:

February 26, 2010
RE: Almonds and Bees

Dear Olivia,

I enjoyed reading your story - yes, it certainly is a correct description.  We always need support and would welcome some Bees for Development Trust Members and supporters in Canada,

With kind regards,

Nicola

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Dr Nicola Bradbear

Director, Bees for Development
PO Box 105, Monmouth
NP25 9AA United Kingdom

Tel  +44 (0)16007 13648

[email protected]
http://www.beesfordevelopment.org

The Bees for Development Trust UK Registered Charity 1078803