Xerces in Your Grocery Store: Working to Make the Food You Eat Better for Bees
Over the past decade the Xerces Society has helped farmers contribute to the creation of over 250,000 acres of pollinator habitat nationwide (and to reduce pesticide use on those lands), but it has been challenging to track food produced on that cropland all the way to the plate. To better connect consumers with products that benefit bees we’ve been working with a number of food companies to incorporate pollinator conservation into their sustainable sourcing initiatives.
We plan to ramp up our efforts over the next decade. Our aim is to make available throughout the grocery store, foods that truly support pollinator populations; from boxed cereals and granola, frozen fruits and veggies, to canned goods, nut butters and desserts.
The Cereal Aisle
One partner, General Mills, has made a nine-year commitment to increasing ingredients produced on farms with bee protections in place. These ingredients will be featured in a number of their key products. As one example, Honey Nut Cheerios has committed to sourcing much of their oat supply from bee-friendly farms by 2020. Specifically, these oat farms will create habitat to bolster bees on 60,000 of cropland in the Midwest. Although oats don’t require pollinators, adding pollinator habitat supports other wildlife, including birds and predators of crop pests, and contributes to long-term pollinator sustainability and biodiversity. Through this project, we will work with General Mills’ supplier farms to sow more than 5 trillion wildflower seeds.
Beyond oats, in California, we’ve already installed over 5 miles of hedgerows in an almond orchard that supplies nuts for Lärabar and Whole Foods Market’s Everyday Value 365 Almond Butter. In addition to the hedgerows, the orchard also contains extensive wildflower meadows and flowering ground cover between the rows of trees to help support pollinators throughout the farm, and not just along the edges.
We have worked with Muir Glen, the organic tomato brand over the past few seasons to establish a mile-long demonstration hedgerow alongside what was formerly a barren, dusty farm road. Where once only a few tough weeds survived, the hedgerow now teems with hummingbirds, falcons, butterflies, and countless species of wild bees (including bumble bees and mining bees that have been demonstrated to increase tomato yields). Our research partners at University of California at Davis have been monitoring changes in the bee populations at this hedgerow as it matures and now find more than twice as many species occupying the site as compared to bare edges in surrounding farms. After seeing these results, Muir Glen has made a commitment to expand hedgerow installation across as many of their supplier farms as possible, work that will begin this summer.
Blueberries and Milk
In the Pacific Northwest, organic pioneer Cascadian Farm, which is already surrounded by beautiful mountain habitat, is incorporating flowering cover crops into annual fields and creating a permanent wildflower meadow next to their blueberry fields. Their frozen blueberries are sold nationwide. In New England we are working with Organic Valley member dairy farms to establish pollinator habitat in and around their pastures (important pasture plants such as clover and alfalfa require bees for pollination).
While these sourcing commitments are a big step in the right direction, working with large corporate supply farms can be challenging as many currently use practices that are not safe for bees. By engaging in meaningful conservation efforts, we hope to push the market toward more sustainable practices, to positively impact hundreds of thousands of acres. We will continue to foster these relationships to help steward farm landscapes toward improved pollinator conservation. At the same time, we remain committed to helping the tens-of-thousands of fantastic individual and family farms across the country that are doing great things for bees, the environment, and local food systems. On all fronts, Xerces will continue to explore new avenues to help move the dial toward a more pollinator-conscious food system.
by Hillary Sardiñas, Pollinator Conservation Specialist, Pacific Coast Region