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Without bees, a classic hamburger would be just a bun with a tomato, said York County beekeeper Jeremy Barnes. 

Wheat, pollinated by wind, makes bread — but alfalfa, pollinated by honey bees, is necessary to feed cows for beef and cheese.

"Honey is nice, but pollination is vital," said Barnes, a Seven Valleys resident, adding that bees are often the best insect for pollination. "Bees being in trouble has a fundamental effect on what we take for granted, which is our food."

The importance of bees might be peripheral to many across York County, but the 240 members of the York County Beekeeper's Association know better. The group, originally founded by five men in 1919, is the largest it has ever been 100 years after its inception, said Barnes, a past president. 

As the group celebrates its centennial, members are aiming to further the nonprofit's original goal to educate the community with outreach efforts throughout the year. 

On Friday, March 8, exactly 100 years after the first meeting was held, members will have a banquet at Central Market. Collusion Tapworks also will sell a mead created from honey provided by association members.

Throughout the year, the association will hold different events to bring awareness to their group and to issues facing bees, said centennial chairman David Papke, a Stewartstown resident.

The third week of May will be York Honey Restaurant Week, Papke said. Members of the association will provide honey for restaurants to work into original entrees and desserts. There also will be apiary tours open to the public in August. 

Active association: While some run from the sight of a bee, Papke has been surrounding himself with the insects for 40 years. 

"I was fascinated by the whole process, the colony itself, the biology of it I guess, so I got a couple of hives and I've always had hives since then, no matter where I lived," Papke said.

When he moved to York from the Baltimore area in 1999, he checked to see if there was a beekeeping association. At the time, he found a group that was small, "without a lot going on." 

About five years later, he returned to find a larger, more active association under the lead of then-president Barnes, Papke said. 

The boom in participation coincided with increased media attention on issues facing bees, he said. 

"There was a lot in the press about the trouble bees were having, sort of at the same time all these new people were coming out to join the association and it seemed sort of curious. But what I think was going on is people were hearing how bees were struggling and they thought 'Well I can help; I can become a beekeeper,'" Papke said. 

In the winter of 2006-2007, beekeepers reported unusually high losses of 30 to 90 percent of their hives, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Colony Collapse Disorder, the phenomenon that occurs when worker bees disappear leaving behind the queen, could be the result of several factors — almost all relating to changing environmental conditions and human interference. 

Barnes said that bees alive today have remained almost identical to species researchers identified  100 years ago. Bees, and beekeeping, will likely remain the same 100 years in the future, he said. What will change is environmental conditions. 

For example, through human import and export, diseases impacting bees in Asia now infiltrate North American populations. 

Humans have degraded the environment to such an extent that bees are just one of the creatures suffering, Papke added. 

"So anything people can do to alleviate environmental problems is going to help the bees. It's going to help the entire environment," Papke said. 

All welcome: The association is open to all those interested, and members include both commercial and hobby beekeepers. Even those yet to take the plunge and invest in hives but are interested in learning more  are encouraged to attend events, Barnes said. 

Barnes is relatively new to beekeeping, starting around 2002 after taking a course in Maryland. If not for finding a mentor and joining the association, he said he probably would have given up after the first year. 

That's not uncommon. Two out of three beekeepers quit after the first year, Barnes said. Resources offered by the association help to  prevent that. 

In addition to learning from mentors, the association offers classes and brings in speakers at the monthly meetings. It's helpful not only for those interested in keeping bees, but anyone who wants to know more about the threats facing the insects. 

In many ways, "the bees are a symbol," of the larger climate change and environmental issues facing the world, Barnes said.

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Anyone not yet ready to jump into keeping a hive can still play a valuable part in mediating the epidemic. 

"You don't have to become a beekeeper to help the bees," Papke said. 

Other measures Barnes and Papke offered include planting pollen-friendly plants, letting dandelions grow and abstaining from the use of certain chemical pesticides. 

"There are little things one can do," Barnes said. "But I think the big picture is we have to become more educated consumers." 

— Rebecca Klar can be reached at rklar@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter @RebeccaKlar_.

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