EDITORIAL: York County beekeepers combine past, future

York Dispatch Editorial Board
FILE - In this May 27, 2015 file photo, volunteers check honey bee hives for queen activity and perform routine maintenance as part of a collaboration between the Cincinnati Zoo and TwoHoneys Bee Co. at EcOhio Farm in Mason, Ohio. A new study published Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, in the journal Science found something in the world’s honey that is not quite expected or sweet: the controversial pesticides called neonicotinoids. Scientists say it is not near levels that would come close to harming humans, but it is a big worry for bees, which already are in trouble. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

It would be tempting to characterize the York County Beekeepers’ Association as an anachronistic special-interest group whose members keep alive a practice that dates back thousands of years.

It would also be wildly inaccurate.

The local beekeeping association, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this month, does indeed cultivate and maintain hives — as well as providing education, outreach and resources — but it does so with an eye not so much on the past as on the future.

While the activity of beekeeping may be historic — “Some of the earliest evidence of gathering honey from wild colonies is from rock paintings, dating to around 13,000 BCE,” according to a history prepared by the Galway Beekeepers’ Association — its practice has profound implications for the future.

Bees, like many other many other animals, vegetables and natural resources on the planet, have suffered drastic effects due to changing environmental conditions.

The sudden widespread collapse of bee colonies — especially honey-bee colonies — in the United States in the mid-2000s elicited no less than a federal response, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture leading several agencies in devising a formal Colony Collapse Disorder Action Plan.

But there may have been a silver lining: Media attention on the issue seemed to spark public interest in beekeeping, said David Papke, one of the York County Beekeepers’ Association’s 240 members and its centennial chairman.

“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 told the Dispatch’s Rebecca Klar.

Every little bit helps — especially considering the urgency that threats to honey bees present.

“Honey bees — wild and domestic — perform about 80 percent of all pollination worldwide,” says the organization Greenpeace, which advocates for protecting bee habitats and banning pesticides that damage colonies. “Grains are primarily pollinated by the wind, but fruits, nuts and vegetables are pollinated by bees. Seventy out of the top 100 human food crops — which supply about 90 percent of the world’s nutrition — are pollinated by bees.”

Or, as York County beekeeper Jeremy Barnes succinctly put it, “Honey is nice, but pollination is vital.”

As such, York County’s beekeepers play a vital role: They combine a historic activity with modern-day public service while serving as environmental and economic stewards. All of which makes this month’s centennial something worth celebrating.

Association members will do just that on Friday, with a banquet at the Central Market. And if you want to toast local beekeepers by sampling a mead created with honey they’ve collected, Collusion Tap Works on South Howard Street will have it on sale. Additional events will take place all year, including York Honey Restaurant Week later this month and apiary tours over the summer.

Those who can’t make it to one of the events can still play a role in promoting healthy bee populations. Resisting lawn chemicals and pesticides, planting bee-friendly flowers such as daisies and marigolds, or even supporting local beekeepers by buying honey or bee’s-wax products all contribute to the cause.

Says Papke: “You don't have to become a beekeeper to help the bees.”