The Pollinators Film
What's All the Buzz About?
“We…have so much power through our everyday choices to improve pollinator habitat and ecosystems for all pollinators.”
The multiple award-winning documentary film, “The Pollinators,” exemplifies three elements of a great story: it informed me, it left me uncomfortable with my choices, and it had me cheering for the underdog.
The film begins in darkness, with glowing red taillights and the throaty hum of tractor-trailer engines. Viewers emerge into the bright light of day, 90 minutes later, having witnessed an undercover operation, literally, involving bees.
Why this subject, why now?
Peter Nelson, the film’s director, co-producer and cinematographer, has been a backyard beekeeper for over 30 years. With this background, he hoped to “connect the dots” using “migratory beekeepers as a window into…bees in our food system.” Nelson wanted “to start the conversation about where our food comes from [since] many of us are three or four generations away from the farm so we’re losing that connection to who grows our food, and how it’s grown, and what’s involved in it. The systems that we're moving towards with monocultures and simplified and chemically enhanced agriculture is pretty vulnerable and the bee keepers are vulnerable because [their] losses are pretty high…It’s really not sustainable.”
The unseen consequences of our food choices
Indeed, Nelson’s endeavor reveals a food system teetering on collapse, well before COVID-19 led to empty supermarket shelves and closed meat processing plants. The $5.6 billion almond crop is a prime example. The US produces 80% of the world’s almonds on a million acres of land in California. With the steep decline in native bees and their corresponding pollination activity, virtually all available commercial bee hives are transported annually, to pollinate this valuable commodity. It’s a water intensive crop (others are worse) grown on former wetlands, in a state plagued by droughts in recent years. Ironically, only 30% of the crop is consumed domestically. Adding to the environmental impacts, staggering emissions are generated by the annual bee migration to California, then elsewhere to pollinate citrus, apple, blueberry and cranberry crops.
Why we must demand organically grown food
Next, we meet Neil Hinish, fruit grower and owner of Hinish Orchard in Pennsylvania, who discusses chemical applications in his apple orchards. “If I could cut way back on my use I would…but we use it to get the fruit…people want to buy.” Hinish ensures migratory bees are out of his orchard before chemical spraying starts. Less conscientious growers may be a factor in continuing high bee losses. In a poignant scene, a bee drags a dead comrade to the edge of the hive and drops it to ground littered with bee carcasses. (Varroa mites, though still an issue, are better managed now but were once a major contributing cause of hive losses.)
Simplified agriculture isn’t so simple
The second half of the film examines monoculture farming, or simplified agriculture, a practice used to grow three of our biggest crops: corn, soy and wheat. The link is made between soil health and bee and other pollinator health. Almonds are only one example of how we’re exploiting limited natural resources and exposing ourselves and pollinators to harmful chemicals ubiquitous in today’s monoculture food systems. The farmland is often as overworked as the honey bees in the film.
It’s about our choices
However, there are reasons to be positive. Peter Nelson says, “While the plight of pollinators can sometimes be a bit bleak, what I hoped that audiences would take away is there are many things that we can all do to make this better. We, as consumers and communities have so much power through our everyday choices to improve pollinator habitat and ecosystems for all pollinators.”
More on those choices in next month’s issue.
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View the movie trailer. Available on all major streaming services.