On this week’s episode, we are joined by Sarah Red-Laird, the Bee Girl and she is on a mission this summer. Sarah is visiting all sorts of people in the Midwest who are trying to do the same thing she is doing from her home in Oregon. All are trying...
On this week’s episode, we are joined by Sarah Red-Laird, the Bee Girl and she is on a mission this summer. Sarah is visiting all sorts of people in the Midwest who are trying to do the same thing she is doing from her home in Oregon. All are trying to regenerate bee pasture in one way or another. Her trip is supported by Browning’s Honey and a host of individual’s who follow her work.
She just visited Judy WuSmart in Nebraska finding out about the zillions of acres of corn that grows there. Sarah was sitting on the grounds of Blue Dasher Farm visiting with Jon Lundgren, an annual guest on our podcast, while talking with us. She was working with Jon’s team, learning more about regenerative farming and helping bees find food.
Sarah also shares a lot about the Beegirl organization and how it supports Honey Bee Habitat Conservation. You can find out a lot more about her non-profit organization, her mid-west trip this summer and the programs she is involved in on her website at www.BeeGirl.org.
This week, Kim reviews three books by Wally Shaw, on Bee Books Old and New with Kim Flottum:
We hope you enjoy the episode. Leave comments and questions in the Comments Section of the episode's website.
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Podcast music: Be Strong by Young Presidents; Epilogue by Musicalman; Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus; A Fresh New Start by Pete Morse; Original guitar background instrumental by Jeff Ott
Beekeeping Today Podcast is an audio production of Growing Planet Media, LLC
Jeff Ott: Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast, presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping Today Podcast is your source for beekeeping news, information, and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.
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Global Patties: Hey, Jeff, and Kim. Today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family-operated business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honey bees. It's a good time to think about honey bee nutrition. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will ensure that they produce strong and healthy colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Now is a great time to consider what type of patty is right for your area and your honey bees. Global offers a variety of standard patties as well as custom patties to meet your needs.
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Jeff: Thanks, Sherry, and thank you, Global Patties. Each week we get to talk about how much we appreciate our sponsor support, and we know you'd rather we get right to talking about beekeeping. However, our great sponsors are critical to help making all of this happen. From the transcripts, the hosting fees, the software, the hardware, the microphones, the subscriptions, the recorders, they enable each episode.
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Hey, everybody, thanks again for joining us. Wow, I can't believe it's August already. Today, we talked to the Bee Girl, Sarah Red-Laird, the executive director of the Bee Girl Organization. You may already follow her on social media. If you have been listening to the podcast for the last couple of years, you'll recognize that Kirsten Traynor talked to Sarah for us in May of 2020. The Bee Girl Organization is a nonprofit focused on bee habitat conservation through research, regeneration, and education.
She joins us this week to give us an update on the BGO and the tour she has taken this summer, learning about the latest developments in bee habitat conservation while visiting researchers and farms as she travels across the agricultural landscape. That's coming up shortly. There's a new book I want to bring to your attention. It's called The Mind of a Bee by Lars Chittka. It's making a big splash in the bee world, as Lars takes up the controversial topic on whether or not bees have a consciousness. We know they have amazing cognitive abilities.
They have individual personalities, exhibit basic emotions. They can count, use simple tools, recognize faces, and learn by observing other bees. This leads up to the question of consciousness and the ethical dilemma that presents for researchers and even beekeepers. Lars is the founder of the Research Center For Psychology at Queen Mary University of London and leads the Bee Sensory and Behavioral Ecology Lab. The book is based upon his peer-reviewed research and that of others in this exploration of the bee mind. You can listen to him talk about the mind of the bee on the latest 2 Million Blossoms podcast.
I will put links to that in the show notes. This is a great book I highly recommend.
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Jeff: Hey, Kim, we're really on a book review role today. What books did you bring for our listeners?
Kim: Here's some more of the bee books, old and new chapters we were working on, Jeff. This time I've got three more by Wally Shaw that I'd like to talk about. The first of these is entitled, There are queen cells in my hive: - what should I do? An interesting question, I think. It's paperback, 28 pages, $11. First off, don't panic. Remain calm and try to find out why there are queen cells in that colony. Basically, as Wally explains, a colony will build queen cells in preparation for swarming or to replace an existing queen that is grossly underperforming, which is called supersedure or to replace a queen that has been removed or killed, which, for the colony, is an emergency.
emergency replacement may be the easiest to determine because the bees will choose an egg or a one or two-day-old larva that is in a brood cell on a vertical frame rather than from the bottom of a frame. They build out the cell right on the face of the comb and the larva moves into that cell, which is very obvious because of its location. With both swarming and supersedure, multiple queen cells are present. Swarm cells on the bottom of more than one frame, usually indicates a swarm is imminent. Checking to see if at least one has emerged supports this.
However, supersedure should not be ruled out. Leaving the colony alone for two or three days is advised, but know how many cells there are present when you leave. When returning, if the colony is preparing to swarm, there will be many more cells present. If it's the same number of cells, there were no additional larva or eggs to convert, then supersedure is in all probability the name of the game. The rest of this book looks very closely at determining the situation and explaining the biology of the colony and what is going to happen, what is happening or what will soon happen if you do not make appropriate changes.
These include finding empty queen cell cups, queen cell cups with royal jelly and larva in them, sealed queen cells finding a colony with far fewer bees that is obviously swarmed, and there are remaining emerged and sealed queen cells present. Examining the brood for development or not, and figuring out, do you have a drone laying queen or not? If you follow what he calls his diagnostic tree of inspection, and take the remedial actions he recommends, the likelihood of your colony swarming next spring is greatly reduced, but it's not zero. It never is.
The next book is Feeding Bees, paperback, illustrated, 24 pages, $10.95. Honey bees collect two types of food material, nectar, and pollen. With the collection of nectar, there is no evidence that there is any selection based on its nutrient value other than as a source of energy. It's their dietary carbohydrate. Pollen is their source of protein, lipids, fats, vitamins, and other essential nutrients. By contrast, foraging for this vital material is much more complex and seems to be based on the nutritional value of the pollen. Bees will forage for easily collected pollens, but will also go out of their way to obtain supplies of a diverse range of other pollens that may require much more effort.
How much and how often a beekeeper needs to feed honeybee colonies of carbohydrate replacement depends on how much of their honey isn't harvested. The environmental conditions to which they're exposed, primarily forage availability and climate, also needs to be taken into account. This book offers advice on what materials can safely be used to feed bees, at what times of year feeding may be required, and how to assess their needs. Also discusses some of the types of feeders that can be used, and their pros and cons.
Most of this book, Jeff, applies to US beekeeping, but some of it is definitely English, which I found probably the most interesting part of the book because beekeepers in there do things differently than we do here sometimes. It was educational to explore that. The last book I have here is called Simple Methods of Making Increase. It's a paperback illustrated, 23 pages, $13.30. Increasing the number of colonies, you have to make bees, honey, wax, or producing colonies to sell made from those you own, is a regular feature when you keep bees.
Of course, capturing a swarm is one way to make increase, whether from one of your colonies or from an unknown colony, but you can split, divide, or make increase depending on what and why you were doing this, any of your colonies, for several ways. This book very neatly describes some of the ways to do this. Making increase covers which colonies to split, balancing the populations of the two or more colonies that result, using nuc boxes, split boards, which is something we don't use in this country.
Splitboards are essentially that bottom board placed over the bottom two boxes, or three boxes of your colony, and another colony placed on top of it, so the bees from one can't go to the other. They call them split boards. I've never used one that way. It was interesting to see, and it gave me some ideas. A split board, as I said, is basically a board that separates completely one or more of the boxes on the colony, several of the many ways to find queens, when and whether to use drone comb or foundation and even making drone comb to use in a new colony. Wally Shaw has produced a collection of basic honeybee colony management booklets.
Each is to the point, well illustrated, and well written. They're published by Northern Bee Books, and available from Amazon. Check them out.
Jeff: Thanks, Kim. Now, onto our talk with Sarah Red-Laird of the Bee Girl Organization, but first, a quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials.
StrongMicrobials: Hey, beekeepers. Many times during the year, honeybees encounter a scarcity of floral sources. As good beekeepers, we feed our bees artificial diets of protein, and carbohydrates to keep them going during those stressful times. What is missing though, are key components, the good microbes necessary for a bee to digest the food, and convert it into metabolic energy. Only SuperDFM-Honeybee by Strong Microbials can provide the necessary microbes to optimally convert the artificial diet into energy necessary for improving longevity, reproduction, immunity, and much more.
SuperDFM-Honeybee is an all-natural probiotic supplement for your honey bees. Find it at strongmicrobials.com, or at fine bee supply stores everywhere.
Jeff: Hey, and while you're on the Strong Microbials site, make sure you click on and subscribe to The Hive, the regular newsletter full of interesting beekeeping facts and product updates. Hey, everybody, welcome back to the show. Sitting across the virtual Zoom table right now is Sarah Red-Laird. Sarah is the chief something of the Bee Girl Organization.
Jeff: I'm not sure. I should have looked up your exact title, but Sarah, welcome to be keeping today podcast. You've been on the show before when you talked with Kirsten back in May of 2020, I believe. It's a pleasure to have you on the show talking to you directly.
Sarah Red-Laird: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me, and its founder and executive director of BGO. [laughs]
Jeff: Ah, thank you for setting me straight there. Thanks.
Sarah: Chief executive actor or CEO is the same as the executive director. Executive director is just nonprofit language for CEO.
Kim: Chief cook and bottle washer probably also would do it. It's good to see you again, Sarah. It's nice to see you, not at a bee meeting. Not that that's a problem, but that's all I've ever managed to touch base with you on. Now, you are in-- Tell us what you're doing right now.
Jeff: Yes. I hear roosters in the background. Where are you?
Sarah: Yes, there's roosters in the background, and a very excited little cattle dog jumping back and forth behind me. I am currently in the BGO education and research mobile, AKA camper van, that I am traveling across the west and the Great Plains state studying bee habitat. I'm currently in South Dakota at Blue Dasher Farm, which is run by Jon Lundgren, and his team. Just checking out what they're doing and learning about the different, amazing programs that they have to help transition farmers and ranchers into regenerative agriculture.
I'm here to check out specifically, their prairie restoration projects where they're using grazing to restore prairie amongst other regenerative practices and looking to see how that affects bee habitat.
Jeff: We've had Jonathan on the show multiple times. He's a great guest. I'm glad that you're working with him on this effort.
Kim: Good friend of the beekeeping industry. Sarah, just for the sake of our listeners, let me back up a half a step, or two. Tell me about the Bee Girl Organization, and how it's set up, and how it functions, and why you're in the middle of a field looking at grazing when you're called the Bee Girl.
Sarah: Yes. The Bee Girl Organization or BGO has been going strong now for about 12 years. We're a nonprofit that is focused on research, and education. We have two main projects that we work on. One is Kids and Bees, which a lot of people in the bee world know me from doing Kids and Bees programs with EAS, and ABF. The first half of BGO's life is me traveling around the world, talking to kids about bees. Then we transitioned more into habitat conservation, specifically, in agricultural areas, which is what I always really, really wanted to do even back when I was a research assistant in Jerry Bromenshenk's lab.
We were actually studying corn and corn pollen, and bee habitat here in Nebraska and Kansas for a study we were working on. I saw then that I felt we had a pretty major bee habitat issue. I'm now living the dream getting to work on these issues. The other part of what we do is we have two different programs. One called Regenerative Bee Pasture, and one called Bee Friendly Vineyards. The idea is to help ranchers and vineyard managers get as many pesticide-free flowers into the landscape as possible.
The reason I chose those two land uses is that typically, pasture doesn't have a lot of pesticides and a lot of inputs, so the transition into regenerative agriculture is usually a bit easier than say, corn or soy.
Jeff: When you say pesticide-free flowers, define that.
Sarah: In your typical agricultural system, many inputs are used to control pests and control weeds, and boost yields. I worry that if you have bee habitat flowers on these lands, they're also getting sprayed with chemicals. Then there also, of course, are crops that flower that require a bees pollination service, such as cotton, almonds, cherries, strawberries that can be doused in pesticides, and fungicides as well. To me, working with nature instead of against nature, and understanding the complexity of soil health, so you can use less chemical inputs is really the cornerstone of the Regenerative Bee Pasture projects.
It's trying to transition away from chemical inputs on the landscape. What I am in it for is for the sake of the bees, but also for the sake of human health. Directly, the people that are living in the adjacent landscape, as well as the people who are eating the food, paper after paper, after paper comes out showing the super harmful effects of glyphosate and different classes of pesticides, and the toll that they take on our health.
Kim: What specific things are you working on? For instance, I'm thinking you've mentioned strawberries, and strawberries have more pests than seeds. To keep the pests off the strawberry plants, and the strawberry fruit, a farmer has got to pay a lot of attention to if he's spraying, when he sprays, and the residue that's left after that. Are you changing those sorts of things, or is that the kind of thing you're working in, or how are you making that work better for the farmer so he can raise a crop, and me, so I can eat a clean strawberry, and the bees, so they get a free lunch that's clean?
How's that for a question?
Sarah: Yes, that's a good question. The answer is no, I don't work in strawberries. BGO does not have capacity. I have a co-presenter standing right outside the door.
Jeff: He has an opinion, obviously
Sarah: He's like, "Let me tell you, I will eat the pests."
Jeff: When are you going to get to the corn topic? [chuckles]
Sarah: Oh, so, no, we don't have the capacity to be able to change the strawberry industry, which even the organic strawberry industry uses a lot of chemical inputs. Essentially, to me, it's a soil health issue, and it's a monoculture issue. You're always, always, always going to be battling pests and battling disease if you grow food in an extraordinarily unnatural way, which is a monoculture. Nothing in nature grows without diversity. There's a reason why there's diversity in the system. If you plant one thing for thousands of acres, there are bugs, and weeds, and different things that are purposefully coming to break down that system because it makes no sense in nature.
No diversity makes no sense in nature, so they're trying to come in and break it down to restore a natural balance. That's a fight that we're never going to win with a spray bottle. It really comes down to really understanding your soil health, and by soil health, I don't mean spraying nitrates in the soil, I mean, really, really getting super nerdy on understanding soil chemistry and soil biology, and how. incredibly important it is to have living, thriving bacteria, and fungus in the soil system. That is the building block to support a strawberry that is more healthy, and more resilient, and more resistant to pests and disease.
Then also bringing diversity into that system. It is harder, but it's the way that we have to go if we want strawberries in the future. Jon Lundgren is actually working with Driscoll. They, I think, just signed on to work with Driscoll on strawberries, in particular. He has the budget, he's got the team, he's got more than 20 staffers working for him, and so I'm stoked that he is doing that work, and I am stoked that there's somebody out there doing the work.
I'm stoked that the company is interested in doing the work because they get that their strawberries don't taste great anymore and that they're having to use a whole lot of pesticides in order to grow a very low, nutrient-dense, bad-tasting food. It's great that I am stoked he's working on that. Our interest, we just had to pick a couple of things and go deep in those areas. For me, it's grazing lands and vineyards because we have a lot of those in my own backyard. I also have good relationships with those people in my own backyard.
That's really what it is all about is building relationships, and sitting at kitchen tables, and finding the win-win solutions for the bees, and the ranchers, and the wine growers.
Jeff: It really comes back down to healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy flowers, healthy bees. It's that complete lifecycle. I will say, I'm glad that we don't have Driscoll as a sponsor because of that tasteless product that they now produce. All right, sorry.
Kim: You're out in Jonathan's backyard basically observing how he's doing what he's doing, so you can borrow that and capitalize on it, take it back to where you're working at home?
Sarah: Yes. BGO has been working on a bee monitoring project with the nature conservancy in the Oregon Department of Transportation for the last five years. That contract ended this year, and so that blew my schedule for the summer open wide. When we found out that the contract wasn't going to be renewed, I've been going out monitoring native bees, and keeping honey bees, and watching the interactions between native bees and honey bees, and studying the flowers on the site that was a 200-acre ranch that was bought by the state for restoration.
They have restored it back to its full glory as a vernal pool wetland. I got to work on the project to help advise on which flowers to plant and where for bees. This really amazing thing happened over the last few years as we've been hit super hard by the effects of climate change in southern Oregon. We have record droughts every year, we have record heatwaves every year, we've got wildfire, we've got our town, literally, half of our valley, burned down. We lost many, many homes and some lives two years ago. I think it was the Almeda fire.
I would say, yes, we go in and out of crisis mode quite a bit back at home.
It was just really amazing watching what was going on with the bees. As we know, they are the canaries in the coal mine, alerting us when something is going on. I had seven apiaries around the valley. One at the vernal pool site, one in town at my house, in my backyard, and then the others were on our regenerative bee pasture sites, which were all really struggling because the way that I had designed the system to work, we needed irrigation for the flowers, and then we also need to utilize rotational grazing. For a myriad of reasons, that irrigation disappeared.
Also, my ranching partners weren't able to pull off the rotational grazing, and so those projects really fell apart. I had 90% losses in my agricultural bee yards. Out of the vernal pool site, year after year after year, I had zero losses. I had two to three times the state average of honey, whereas the other hives didn't produce hardly a drop of honey, lower Varroa mites, lower disease levels. We had the same drought, the same wildfire smoke AQI, the same heatwaves, but the bees that were on this restored agricultural area that was just flush with wildflowers and no irrigation, just normal restored water dynamics on the landscape system, thrived.
That really showed me that the survival of our bees and the survival of us comes down to being able to lean into our agricultural areas to manage them in a more nature-based regenerative way. I want to know how we can do that better everywhere, not just in southern Oregon, but everywhere. This trip is really about going around and visiting about 11 different farmers and ranchers and landscape management practices from the Bee and Butterfly Habitat Project that Pete Berthelsen and Conservation Blueprint are working on, to, out here at Blue Dasher Farm, to--
I was just at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and up to my knees in conventional agriculture. Then I'll head up to Jamestown, North Dakota and spend some time with Zach Browning and the different habitat projects that he's got going on up there. From there, I go into Montana. I'll be studying bees on grazing land that are using some really progressive, really innovative ways of grazing. I don't know what I'm going to see there, but I'm pretty excited. I'm pretty excited to know is if you utilize grazing in a natural way using range riding and rotational grazing, can you restore the habitat?
I'll be looking at quite a few different ranches, a bison ranch, some cattle ranches, some sheep ranches, some goat ranches to look at those questions. The idea is I am just out for the summer at the six-week tour, and I'm just here to learn. I want to learn everything that I possibly can about what's going on in agriculture and these different ways of managing our landscapes. See what's working really, really well for bees, and try and then synthesize that, and share more with anybody who wants to listen about how to make these transitions and get our landscapes more bee-friendly.
Jeff: Let's take this opportunity to hear from one of our sponsors, Betterbee.
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Kim: That's a trip I'd like to take also. It's not only exciting but educational and to see people doing the right things. I have two questions that comes from this. One of them, there is an ongoing debate that honey bees and natural bees don't get along. There's too much competition, the bees overwhelm them, and/or there's other things going on. I'm interested in hearing what you have to say about that now that you've spent this much time observing them. The other half of the equation is how do we grow enough corn to feed the world without monocultures and doing the things that you--
I'm not defending corn or attacking corn, but we have to eat. Tell me what you knew about the competition between honey bees and natural bees, but then let's look at food for a minute.
Sarah: Only the easy non-confrontational question please.
Sarah: This is what I'm here for. Here's how I look at the world of bees in the US is honey bees are classified as livestock. To me, they are livestock. They are teeny, tiny adorable little livestock. The USDA classifies them as livestock. They're managed for food production, whether that's honey or pollination services. I know that that will maybe ruffle some feathers, but it is, for all intents and purposes, true and definable. I took a week-long cowgirl camp last summer. It was at a former Savory Hub, and I got to learn all about Savory's holistic management system, which is a livestock-based way to manage your livestock, to manage your soil health, to manage your plant health.
Then also, to manage your community health and to manage your own mental health. It was a really powerful, and really dynamic, and really amazing week. The one big takeaway that I got, and then also all of the other women that were in the camp together got, is that bees are livestock. You can manage them holistically, or you can manage them conventionally, or contemporarily. You can think about it in the same context even as regenerative agriculture.
If you take 1,000 hives of bees and go set them out in the middle of a very brittle, delicate area, and drop them, and don't manage them, and don't keep your eye on food resources, and don't feed them, and don't make sure that your management is such that those bees are disease free, then you've got a problem. Then there is going to be some habitat competition, and there is very much potential for a transfer of disease. It's the same thing with cattle. If you take 1,000 head of cattle and you stick them out on a BLM area that might look a little trashy to someone who doesn't know better.
To someone who really loves and understands plants and nature and those dynamics, it could be a very brittle area that might have a endangered population of pronghorn or a threatened population of prong-- You know what I mean? Or some other kind of wildlife. These cattle, if they're unmanaged, and they can just go sit in the riparian zone, and poop, and eat, and decimate anything that they want, it's the same thing. They can spread disease, they can affect habitat, but then there's also ways that you can more responsibly manage these populations, so your impact on the wildlife is much lessened.
You can manage your cattle through range riding, through-- There's a new technology that I'm actually going to go check out in Montana called Vences, which are electric shock collars that you can actually control your cattle's movement with satellites. They're invisible fences that are basically set up electronically with satellites, where you can control the cattle's movements on the ground if you don't have capacity to range ride, if you don't have a team of cowboys and cowgirls and dogs that can go out and manage those cattle and keep them from doing naughty things.
You manage your cattle, you keep them in a small bunch. You can make sure that they're ecologically grazing a certain area, so they have lessened impact on wildlife. To me, I see our native bees as wildlife. Honey bees are livestock, native bees are wildlife. You can manage your honey bees as well, by being really mindful about where you're putting them, making sure you're feeding them if it's a pollened earth or you're starting to see some flower competition. You can make sure they're watered. You can make sure, again, that you're managing to lessen disease, and you have really healthy bees that are going out there if you do have to put them on wild lands.
That's my philosophy. That's my long-winded philosophy is, we need to really think about context here, and admit and say, "Yes, honeybees are managed livestock, and they need to be treated as such, and treated responsibly, and managed holistically, and managed responsibly," just so we can care for our wildlife, which are our native bees and be really thoughtful about what we're doing with our honey bees.
Kim: Jeff, I think she said all of that without taking a breath.
Sarah: Yes, I'm working on my second cup of coffee, so, don't get me started.
Kim: I need to go back to, how do we raise enough corn so that we all can eat? I don't think we solved that one yet. Maybe it's the same amount of corn in smaller patches spread out over a larger area, and crop rotation, and all of those sorts of things, I'm sure are a part of this, that farmers are going to have to look at, if we're going to accomplish the things that you want to accomplish with diversity, and livestock, and wildlife. Does that make sense?
Jeff: I'm going to jump in here, Sarah, and you can add this to the mix of your answers. I suspect all of this will change in the next 50 years due to climate change. Growing zones and everything else are going to shift, I suspect due to water supply, aquifers, temperatures.
Sarah: Yes, zoning. I had a really interesting conversation with a student from UNLV about farm zoning and rezoning our farmlands for diversity.
Jeff: With that, answer that question for us, Sarah.
Sarah: Yes, let's abridge it with my and BGO's vision of the future. My vision of the future is for agricultural landscapes to become a refugia for bees instead of somewhere where bees have to escape from. Right now, the way that most pollination services work is that our monoculture agricultural areas are too toxin-laden, and there's not enough flowers there for bees. You load them up on a truck and you drive them in, and they pollinate and you drive them out for safety. How amazing would it be, instead of our agricultural areas this summer where bees have to escape from, they can seek refuge in.
Our honey bees can just stay in one place and we are able to end honey dumping, and we can have fair prices for honey in this country. Our beekeepers are paid for the work that they do and local people feel great about buying local honey and paying a good price for it because it is valuable, very valuable. Instead of being stuck in a cog in this industrial cycle, I would love to see our beekeepers be able to keep their bees in agriculture areas that are a safe refugia for our bees, make a plethora of honey, stay put in their local communities.
I'm really sad by watching a lot of the beekeeper families that I know, fall apart.
I've watched so many divorces. I've watched kids have some serious mental health issues from their parents being gone half of the year for pollination, and for having to move their bees around to different scraps of CRP land for honey. I'm just so sad by that. This isn't just an agriculture issue or a spray issue, this is a human issue, and this is a mental health issue too. Going back to the idea of refugia, how amazing would that be if our bees could stay where they are and have plenty to eat?
Then also, as the climate changes, and as the wild areas become perhaps even less habitable for who knows how long, how amazing would that be if our agricultural lands also be a refugia for native bees to be able to come in, and coexist, and enjoy delicious flowers in our agricultural landscape? That's my Pollyanna pie-in-the-sky vision of agriculture, but will it happen in my lifetime? Probably not. Can I try and set the stage and do the foundational work to make that happen? That's what we're trying to do. Joined to the question of corn, corn doesn't feed the world, corn feeds our gas tanks.
The majority of corn that's planted in every square inch of land that I am currently surrounded by is for biofuels, for the most part. The percentage goes up and up and up every year. They push more, started at E5 then E10. Now they're pushing for E30, and that's the amount of ethanol that is in a gas tank. The data is extraordinarily clear that it takes more petroleum to produce a gallon of ethanol than the gallon of ethanol itself. We really just need to rethink ethanol. I am not a fan, I'm not on board, and I don't think it's a environmental, or biologically clean way to fill our gas tanks.
It's really, really hard on older cars as well, which, other than the van, our two company vehicles are ancient, and ethanol-based fuel is really hard on them. I want them to last forever just for environmentalism and sustainability's sake, but I don't know what that means. Maybe it means more electric cars. Maybe it means more public transportation, but we really do need to be seriously considering how we can transition away from the fossil fuel industry and the biofuel industry.
Jeff: Many lobbyists I'm sure are just grinding their teeth on even the thought of reducing the amount of ethanol. I agree with you that it needs to be done. We need to make decisive steps to correct some of the things we've done wrong.
Sarah: Then the remainder of the corn goes to feeding livestock, oftentimes in feedlot situations, which we also know is not great for climate change. I eat beef, I eat a lot of beef. I love beef, but I make sure that I know my farmer or rancher that beef came from. I make sure that the beef lives a very happy life, and it treats the land of the environment from which it came responsibly and ethically. I'm willing to treat beef more as a treat, not an everyday thing that I get from a fast food line. I am happy to pay more for it to support my local farmers and ranchers because, to me, it's worth it.
I think that that also is a way to transition away from corn. Then the rest of it goes to corn syrup, which is not exactly a boon for physical and mental wellbeing in our country either.
Jeff: It's used everywhere.
Sarah: I just love to see more opportunities for farmers and ranchers to be able to grow food for their communities again. I haven't seen one farmer's market or one local food co-op since I've been on the road, and I've been looking. There is one, I think in Brookings, Jon said, on Saturday morning, so I'll be going to that one, and checking out, and stacking up the van with food for the next leg of my trip. I would just love to see less corn and more food-food grown on our landscapes, and we need to support the farmers to do that.
Our cropping, the banking system and the debt that these farmers are in, and the subsidies, it's just set up for farmers to fail really at this point. I would love to see healthy food subsidized instead of corn and soy being subsidized.
Kim: I'm going to guess that every beekeeper listening to this is standing in line behind you trying to help. I want to switch gears. I want to turn this 90 degrees and have you tell us a little bit about your Kids and Bees work.
Sarah: Kids and Bees has transitioned a lot since we first started. When I first started BGO, it was going into individual classrooms and getting kids super jazzed about bees and bee conservation, and sustainable agriculture, and wanting them to grow up to shop at farmer's market. Just using bees as the gateway into environmental mindsets and conservation mindsets, and then also just really genuinely wanting kids to love bees and not to be afraid of them. To really embrace these magical little fairy creatures that they have in their backyards.
I did that work myself, and my team put on summer camps, and classroom visits, and assemblies all over the world for a very long time, and it was so fun. Then we started transitioning into more of train the trainer. Now I'll do multiple train the trainer workshops through different beekeeping associations throughout the year. Things are different now because of the pandemic. That really shut down a lot of what we were doing. I was so bummed. I'd been working with EAS for about three years to pull off this super epic kids camp and train the trainer program.
Then the pandemic rolled around and that EAS was canceled, and we just haven't rescheduled all of that yet. What the pandemic did do is give us an opportunity to roll more into the virtual world, which I have mixed feelings about because my whole jam is to get kids away from their screen, but at the same time, we got to just meet people where they are and meet our kiddos where they are, and try and reach them wherever they're at, or sitting, or what screen they're in front of. We were able to collaborate with Minecraft Education Edition, and we built a video game that is so fun.
It's a Minecraft video game. It's a bee world, and then there's three lands within the world. There's a honey beehive where they can go and learn all about beekeeping and honey bees. Then there's a native bee world called Beetopia where they learn all about three different kinds of native bees. An Agapostomen, a Bumblebee, and an Osmia. They're different, where they nest and what kind of flowers they like, and fun, weird, cool facts about our native bees. Then there's also a farm where they go learn about regenerative agriculture and bee-friendly farming.
We have this one game set up for them where they build a fence, and then rotationally graze their sheep and cows. Then they plant flowers for their bees, and then their bees go out and make honey. Once the hive is full of honey, it goes [onomatopeia] and honey explodes out the side. Then if you're carrying a flower, bees will follow you around and make little heart bubbles at you. That was the second most popular game in 2020 and 2021, which was really cool. It was translated into seven languages. It went into about 130 countries, and they didn't give me the stats, but we can estimate millions of kids probably played that game, which is really, really cool.
Jeff: Kim, are you playing that?
Kim: I'm not a computer game person, I've never heard of it. Looks like I'm going to have to begin now. That sounds really exciting. Not knowing anything about the industry, is this something I go out and buy, or tune into my internet, or how?
Sarah: It's the Education Edition, so it actually is set up to be licensed just through schools and homeschool groups. If you started, like if you're involved in 4H or something along those lines, I think that, because of the pandemic, it was strictly just for classrooms, but they've really opened it up to be more. You buy a license to Minecraft Education Edition. They're pretty affordable, and they've got good programs for financial assistance, and so you buy, and then the world is your oyster. There's hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of Education Edition games.
The Minecraft is the video game which is the most popular video game in the world, and you can play that online or through Xbox. Then the Education Edition is for educators, and so we also, me and my team, wrote 11 different lesson plans and teachers' guides to be able to guide teachers and kids through the different lands in the world that we created.
Jeff: That's pretty amazing.
Sarah: Yes. Then the lesson plans are also, actually, that brings me into the next thing that we're up to, which is we're making a guidebook. We're about to produce a guidebook for beekeepers and a guidebook for teachers on how to teach kids about bees. We adapted the most popular ones in our favorite lesson plans from the Minecraft game to be able to just do in a classroom or a backyard. We adapted those and are putting those into our guidebooks. Even if you're not super into Minecraft, you'll still be able to access our lesson plans through the guidebooks.
They just keep getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and bigger. I think the teachers' handbook, just copy without even any illustrations, is now 45 pages.
Jeff: That is fabulous.
Sarah: Yes. Then actually, while I'm out on the road, I'll be working on the beekeeper edition. Then I'm hoping, by the end of the year, by Kids and Bees at ABF 2023, anyone who volunteers gets a free guidebook. Then we'll also be giving more to schools. We'll look for a publisher. If anybody knows someone who wants to produce a very niche guidebook, and if we don't self-publish, which is what we've done before, we'll look for a publisher to try and get it out to a wider audience. Then we've had a couple other cool virtual things. We did a virtual field trip with one of the Smithsonian museums in Washington, DC over the pandemic.
There's a link to that on the kidsandbees.org. Then there's also, I just did a collaboration with George Mason University for a couple of different things. One is developing smart hive tech that are educational, smart hives. The ideas there will be honey beehives placed at different places around the world that kids can log into and pull data, and learn how to pull and analyze, and read, and interpret data. The whole idea around it, I'm working with a team of teachers that was organized by George Mason University, and the idea around it is to get kids really excited about bees and get kids really excited about environmentalism.
Reach them through STEM, so, reach those kids that are already really interested in science, and engineering, and tech, and then bring them into wanting to go in their backyard and explore as well. Then I also just recorded a field trip for fourth graders that was funded by George Mason University and the Sweet Virginia Foundation. It's a virtual reality field trip, so kids will be able to put on virtual reality goggles, and then go on a field trip with me into, I did a tour of the apiary at George Mason University and the apiary at Sweet Virginia.
Jeff: You're doing a lot. The Bee Girl Organization is a lot bigger than even the website lets on to.
Sarah: Yes. I have a kick-butt assistant back at home, Marie, who is also my childhood best friend, who now works with me.
Sarah: She really helps keep the ship afloat while I'm out doing all these fun things. She's doing a lot of organizing, coordinating, and all sorts of things in the background. We have a board of directors of eight who are very involved and super duper supportive. Then we have a lot of collaborators, so we consciously made the decision not to grow and stuff because I don't want to be just sitting at a desk, pointing fingers, and directing people different ways. I want to be out doing the things and creating the things. I'm really a creative at heart.
I want to be sitting at kitchen tables with ranchers and dreaming up cool ways to reach kids through video games, and so we made a decision to just collaborate with other organizations that are as excited and passionate about what they do than what we do. We just have a long list of the collaborators that make everything happen. The honeybee microbiology lab at Eastern Washington University, ABF, Oregon State University honeybee lab, the ranchers, and the winemakers that we are now collaborating with. I come up with the ideas and order the seeds, and then they do the work. We just have a amazing roster of partners and collaborators to pull all this off.
Kim: That brings up, I guess I would say, the opportunity-- Two things. Again, I've got two questions. One is how is all of this supported? I know you've got a lot of people who are donors, and a lot of people who are, you've mentioned the collaborators. What kinds of organizations are standing behind you so that you get to do what you like to do?
Sarah: Yes, we receive financial support from a few different foundations. Mostly, we do a lot of cobbling together of small grants and small foundational gifts from here and there. GloryBee has been a big supporter and a very strong partner for a very long time, since almost the beginning, supporting our kids' programs. Now they support the regenerative bee pasture program. They're also supporting our upcoming fundraiser, Hive to Glass September 9th. We get a lot of individual donations, so, beegirl.org/donate. Just yesterday, I got a $10 donation, and the day before, I got a $25 donation.
Anytime I see those gifts come in, I'm just so happy. We really are funded by those little gifts here. They are not little. Probably, those are significant gifts to the people that give them, so I'm always thankful for those coming in. We have a lot of cause marketing partnerships. There's fun, hipster Bee Sock out there, that we get the proceeds that come our way. We love doing mission-aligned cause marketing work.
Jeff: You'll have to send us the link for the Bee Socks so we'll put it in the show notes.
Sarah: Yes. Then this trip, in particular, is supported by Browning Honey, Zach Browning, and the family honey shop. I talked to Zach about one of the goals for this trip aside from learning all about landscape management honeybee habitat, was to go out and check out, there's a current bee and pesticide crisis in Mead, Nebraska. More will be coming out about that on my social media, and blog, and newsletter about what specifically is going on there and what people can do to help. I spent almost a week there with Dr. Judy Wu-Smart learning about that crisis, and what's going on, and how we can all help.
It always all comes back to bees, and so, Browning Honey was very generous to offer to basically kick in some support money for gas money for this trip and other essentials. I'm very thankful for them for making that happen. Give them a like on social media and visit their website as well.
Jeff: Their donations and support is really paying off in spades with the work that you're doing and Bee Girl Organization is doing. Kudos to you.
Kim: Outstanding, I think doesn't even say it. If I want to find out more about all of these things that you're involved in, and I know I can donate on your webpage, but is there more information on all of these people, and the video programs that you're doing, and what you're planning to do? How can I get a hold of the stuff that you've already done on your webpage?
Sarah: Yes. kidsandbees.org is our Kids and Bees site, and beegirl.org is more our conservation work. Check out the Funders and Friends page on our website to see all of the other supporters and collaborators that we work with. I am super open with what we're doing habitat-wise and conservation-wise. I post our current seed mixes that we're trialing. I tell you where I go to get my soil analyzed. I am so open with what we're doing because I want everyone to be doing this work. Nothing is a secret. I'm really open. All of the principles for the Regenerative Bee Pasture project and all the principles for the Bee Friendly Vineyard Program Initiative are all on my website.
Also, I have a blog that I try and keep up on. I'm also very open-sourced about what we're doing, and what resources are out there. I have a whole resource kit that lists podcasts, books, I think your podcast is actually on there, and different films to watch, other people's websites to check out, courses to try and get into. Anybody is interested in joining the regenerative community and try and make that as easy as possible.
Kim: We'll have those connections on our web page. Right, Jeff?
Jeff: They'll be in a combination of, in the show notes, and on our website in Sarah's guest profile as well.
Kim: Okay, that gets me started.
Jeff: Sarah, it's been wonderful having you on the show and look forward to having you back with updates and seeing how the BGO is going and everything else that's happening. There's a lot. I don't think we probably touched, but just 10% of it. Thank you for joining us.
Sarah: Yes, thank you so much for having me. This was such great timing. I was really excited to be able to chat with you while I'm in it. Yes, I would love to come back again and update your listeners on all of the things. I'm really just getting started. This is Week 2 of a six-week road trip, so, I'm really just getting started, and I'm sure I will have a lot to learn and a lot to share.
Jeff: You're posting this on Instagram as well?
Sarah: Yes. I've been posting pictures and stories of my journey on the Instagrams and sharing on Facebook. I'm a little lazy on Twitter, but we are on Twitter too. Then when I get the time and the brain space, I'll be writing up some blogs and sharing them via our newsletter. Sign up for our newsletter.
Jeff: Thank you for joining us. We've been talking with Sarah Red-Laird of Bee Girl Organization, chief cook, and bottle washer, and all the above, and look forward to having you back. Thank you so much. Sarah is on a fabulous trip across the country. I don't know how she does all the work she's doing.
Kim: The amazing thing is that I'm going to guess that most of the people listening to this were thinking of Sarah, the Bee Girl, and kids. That's certainly important and the things she should do, well, the video games and all of those things with kids are out of this world. The things with farming and farmers and diversity, I think are equally, if not more important to improving the lives of the people that she's working with, and the bees, and the beekeepers. I'm pretty impressed.
Jeff: I remember the announcement of the Minecraft module that she talked about, but I, not being a gamer, didn't even look at it and did not understand the significance or the reach that it has. That in itself is pretty fabulous for getting into the hands of kids and understanding of the pollination and the life cycles and honeybees. Kudos.
Kim: Yes, I guess I'm just going to have to join the 20th century and take a look at some of these things.
Jeff: You have an iPhone, so you can probably download Minecraft to your iPhone this afternoon.
Kim: I'll see what I can do. Okay.
Jeff: That about wraps it up for this episode of Beekeeping Today Podcast. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple Podcast, wherever you download and stream the show. Your vote helped other beekeepers find us quicker. We want to thank our sponsors. Bee Culture magazine, Global Patties. HiveAlive, Betterbee, and Strong Microbials. Visit their websites and let them know you heard about them on this podcast. Finally, we want to thank you, the Beekeeping Today Podcast listener for joining us. Feel free to leave us comments in the comments section of the show notes. We'd love to hear from you.
[00:57:16] [END OF AUDIO]
Founder & Executive Director
Sarah Red-Laird is the founder and Executive Director of the Bee Girl organization, a grassroots nonprofit centered on bee habit conservation through research, regeneration, & education. She is a graduate of the University of Montana's College of Forestry and Conservation and the Davidson Honors College with a degree in Resource Conservation, focused on community collaboration and environmental policy. Sarah also serves as the “Kids and Bees” program director for the American Beekeeping Federation. To see her commitment to good policy and community collaborations realized, she also has served as president of the Northwest Farmers Union and Western Apicultural Society, and as a board member of the National Farmers Union. When she is not tirelessly working with bees, beekeepers, kids, farmers and ranchers, and policy makers, Sarah loves to read books while drinking coffee, ride her vintage 10-speed, run in the hills, and see new places, things, and people.