Written by: Dr. Dan Sonke, Director of Sustainable Agriculture
You may have seen news reports about the loss of large numbers of North American bee colonies. Experts aren’t entirely sure why, but they point to new bee diseases, more inbreeding of bees, and far fewer wildflowers where the bees can get a diverse selection of foods. Bees are like us in that way – they need a balanced diet to stay healthy.
In response, beekeepers are learning how to better manage the breeding and diseases. Access to wildflowers, however, can still be tricky. And the trouble hits home for all of us — about a third of food crops must be pollinated by insects, and honeybees handle more than three-quarters of that job. In short, no pollination by bees eventually can equal less food for us.
Four years ago, Chef Tom Griffiths, Master Chef and Vice President of Campbell’s Culinary and Baking Institute, and I realized we had a unique opportunity to help the bees. Our tomato processing facility in Dixon, Calif., discharges water into 600 acres of pasture – a prime “residential” area for bees, since something blooms there nearly year-round.
We teamed up with beekeeper Henry Harlan, owner of Henry’s Bullfrog Bees and brother of long-time Campbell tomato farmer Blake Harlan, to bring the first hives to Campbell Dixon. Now the pasture is a hive of activity; Henry uses it to get his new hives off to a strong start, or as a resting place when he brings them back from field trips to pollinate local crops.
For food and employee safety, the hives are located far from the processing facility. But our employees are still involved; they often plant wildflower seed along the pasture fences, through a partnership with Project Apis m., a non-profit that helps fund research and access to diverse flower sources for bees.
It’s truly a honey of a deal. Henry sells the bees’ honey at local farmers’ markets. Other pollinators use the wildflowers, where duck and geese also make cozy nests. It’s a natural fit for our sustainability programs and for our employees, who enjoy the natural community benefits of working next door to these amazing creatures that help make it possible for us to deliver Real food that matters for life’s moments.