Our Philosophy and Genesis

As the world hurtles towards widespread environmental degradation, glimmers of golden hope fly in the air. Bees. Although suffering from myriad human-imposed stressors, indicators show that wild honey bees do succeed in nature. From these examples we can learn much about what the species as a whole needs to survive — and thrive — and subsequently what we can learn from them to improve our understanding of nature and how our current practices can be harmful. 

At Learning from the Bees | Berlin 2019, we will gather in a spirit of hope and deep concern for the future of the honey bee and the entire pollinator system. We will assert our role not as keepers of bees, but as guardians, seeking to provide positive support for this marvelous creature that has inhabited the planet for more than 30 million years. We will push the beekeeping, forestry, and agricultural sectors to reevaluate centuries-old practices. We strive to disrupt current systems and provide alternatives.

The Situation
For more than 150 years, honey bees have been treated like indentured servants, pressured to provide more honey more productively and, furthermore, forced to pollinate crops under unnatural, unseasonable conditions.

Additionally compounded by habitat loss, monocultures, pesticide poisoning, invasive parasitic species, genetic bottlenecking, and other inhumane factors, this economically driven paradigm is unsustainable. Recent reports forewarn the approaching “Insect Armageddon,” with, for instance, German nature reserves experiencing a 76% reduction in insects since 1992. Honey bee (Apis mellifera) populations, too, are declining at an alarming rate around the world. Of the 100 most eaten crops on the planet, 70 depend on pollinators. So without our winged friends, ecosystems may possibly collapse and food may become seriously scarce — and probably boring too. No berries. No watermelon. No beans. No zucchini. No almonds. No herbs. And the list goes on and on. 

The Conversation
Honey bee, how are you?” 

If we engage in a metaphoric (or literal, for some) conversation with bees, asking how they are and what they need, we may be surprised by what we can learn from this esteemed species that lives harmoniously as one within the superorganism of a hive, selflessly collaborating with thousands of sisters and brothers. What holds equal interest is what happens when we apply this concept to those who are directly and tangentially connected to the bee’s world: “Beekeeper, how are you?” “Farmer, how are you?” “Agriculture, how are you?” “Tree, how are you?” “Forester, how are you?” Each is in a state of emergency. Each experiences extractive, exploitative pressures driven by capitalistic paradigms demanding more, bigger, better, more convenient, faster, cheaper. We need to stop. Pause. Reflect. Look inside. And ask difficult questions: Is this working? Is this sustainable? Is this the right way, the only way? Am I contributing to the problem? Am I part of the solution? How do I feel about this? How am I? If each player on this stage is asked, “How are you?” in sum we can stretch beyond to the bigger picture of, “Nature, how are you?” This is the starting point for Learning from the Bees | Berlin 2019, whereby we intend to spark cross-disciplinary conversation among these various sectors.

The Solution
In 2018, the Learning from the Bees conference kicked off outside Amsterdam, where 350 bee advocates convened to lay the foundation to decisively move forward concerted action on behalf of honey bees and other pollinators. Inspired by its success, members from the natural beekeeping group Mellifera Berlin decided to embark on the second chapter of this journey, with an emphasis on Zeidlerei, how wild bees embody an innate wisdom that us humans can benefit and learn from, and how action can make a difference. During the conference, we will be discussing a variety of topics, loosely falling into three primary categories: “Bees & Beekeepers,” “Bees & Trees,” and “Bees & Farms.”