Crop Production Blog

She Works Hard for the Honey

Bees have many challenges beyond pesticides, but consumers don't know that if we don't share the story. (DTN photo by Pamela Smith)

DECATUR, Illinois (DTN) -- A honeybee makes 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.

It's a fact that I use over and over when describing this gift of nature. Recipients of this small nugget of knowledge almost always react in a gobsmacked manner. The thought of honey in terms of effort is something that seems to stick with you long after the fact has been doled out.

Farmers tend to complain that they are misunderstood. As a group, we often can't fathom why consumers don't appreciate our efforts and/or don't immediately swallow our production practices.

All winter I've been attending meetings and the urgent need to tell agriculture's story has been a popular theme. There have been long discussions about the appropriate techniques to address misconceptions that are often more emotional than scientific.

Certainly it can be frustrating to butt heads with flawed or irrational thoughts. But we also tend to forget, in my opinion, that agriculture's defensive attitude can come off as equally arrogant.

More often than not, I hear farmers respond to criticism, of pesticides or GMOs, for example, with a huffy: "Well ... I wouldn't raise my kids there if it wasn't safe."

Yikes. Yikes. Yikes. To change thinking, it can't all be about you.

Instead, how about: "I have kids, too, and I care so much that I am testing the water running through the tile to know exactly what is there. I don't want my children drinking anything that is not safe either."

Asking what their concerns are or why they are concerned often leads to a meaningful exchange of ideas.

I had a lot of time to think about this recently as I ventured in and around Baltimore and Washington, D.C. for events. A series of taxi, bus, train, shuttle, hotel and airport encounters resulted in multiple opportunities to randomly converse with complete strangers.

Typically the situation involved me needing help with negotiating some aspect of city life. You know: "Can you help me, I'm lost. I'm from farm country and can find my way out of a cornfield, but apparently not a cul-de-sac."

Then, the Good Samaritan will say: "Really, you live on a farm? How cool is that." And the conversation starts.

I do have a few colonies of bees and they, and other pollinators, are the new darlings of many consumers. While bees are an agricultural enterprise, they are also important because of the general concern that pesticides are causing a bee apocalypse.

Let's face it, pesticides can and do endanger bees at times. However, I explain that my bees are not at much risk from agricultural pesticides and we still struggle at times to keep the hives free of problems.

I watch for clues as to how much they want to know and use simple terms to explain that other threats such as mites and cold weather and even windy spring days are equally challenging.

I keep a few little fun facts stuck in my cluttered brain. And if the whole conversation feels right, I gift a little plastic bee finger puppet as a friendly reminder of our conversation.

I realize this is just a little drop of advocacy in a world that sometimes seems bent on cynicism. However, at the very least I like to think that knowing how hard my girls work for their honey makes it just a bit sweeter.

Pamela Smith can be reached at

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN