To Bee or Not to Bee: Sustainability is Sweet in Portland

Bees are a necessary and vital part of our existence. We depend upon their pollination for a large percentage of the foods we eat. This relationship with bees has sustained our lives for as long as humans have existed. But what if we were severed from this relationship? Could we survive the loss of benefit? We may just as well ask the question: can we survive without food?

Honey, Bee, Buckfast, Insect, Wings, Eyes, Stripes

Let’s re-frame the question in light of this basic insight. Without fruits, vegetables, or grains, what options would be left to us?

As important as this question is, to simply wallow in it would be unproductive. We would waste time and resources needed to ensure such a scenario never comes to pass. So this essay focuses attention on people who are contributing to what needs to happen right now.

The following are some examples of sustainably-minded businesses in Portland, Oregon who’ve decided to take matters into their own hands. Here you will find practical inspiration to take personal action and create proactive solutions.

Damian Magista of Bee Local

New Seasons, a local health food store and pillar of sustainable business practice, is one of them. In partnership with Damian Magista, local beekeeper and founder of Bee Local Honey, New Seasons put in two hives on the rooftops of their Happy Valley, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington health-food stores.

Damian has even collaborated with Provenance Hotels to place beehives on the roofs at three of their upscale hotels. I found myself wondering what his perspective would be regarding unsustainable environmental conditions that threaten healthy bee populations. Here’s what Magista has said on the matter:

“When you remove bees from this environment, they remain healthy. It’s so simple — treat an organism with respect and it thrives, abuse it and it dies.”

Beekeeper, Bees, Insect, Beehive, Nature, Honey, Combs

Glen Andresen of Bridgetown Bees

Another important local innovator in helping to create sustainable conditions for bees as well as those who depend upon their sweet product is Glen Andresen. Together with Tim Wessels of the Portland Urban Beekeepers, Glen founded Bridgetown Bees: where the focus is on selectively breeding a winter-hardy honey bee that can handle the damp and sometimes cold weather. Glen and Tim breed and raise queen bees in the city of Portland that are suitable for year-round survival here and in other cities in the Pacific Northwest. Why do they do it? To reduce the decline of honeybees in the region. There is a sense of urgency in their mission… from their website:

“The collapse of honeybee populations also threatens the security of our food supply since honeybee pollination is critical to the cultivation of over a third of our food supply in America.”

Additionally, Andresen seeks to address the problem by teaching classes in the basics of backyard beekeeping, using only “gentle and organic treatment techniques.” Classes include information about equipment, types of hives, sources for bees, what to look for inside the colony, handling swarms, good nectar producing plants, hive maintenance, etc.

I made a point of asking him what average people (other than active beekeepers), could do to help the bees. His response was especially focused on learning what plants one can cultivate that are good for bees and other pollinators. He also stated that in hot weather, bees can face difficulty finding water, especially in urban neighborhoods. Andresen makes a point of putting water out for the bees. It can be as easy as placing water in the bird bath in your yard. However, the sloping surface in many bird baths can make it too easy for the bees to drown. Saturating a bed of moss may be safer and more effective.

Bees, Pollination, Insect, Macro, Work, Pollen, Honey

What can you do to save the bees? 

  • Plant a bee-friendly pollinator garden in your garden and yard
  • Provide nesting habitat.
  • Weeds can be a good thing.
  • Don’t use chemicals and pesticides to treat your law or garden.
  • Buy local, raw honey.
  • Bees are thirsty. Put a regular source outside your home.
  • Buy local, organic food from a farmer that you know.


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