Just Choose Hope: Musings on Native Bees and Cover Crops

I received word recently that several native bees have been added to the Endangered Species List, and while I’m distressed by the news, I’m encouraged too. Fundamentally, I wish we didn’t need an Endangered Species List, nor the political posturing and environmental game-playing that surround it. At the same time, I am guardedly pleased that bee health is getting some real attention — mostly in Hawaii, in this case — and I hope that the classification will lead to real environmental stewardship and help diverse interests come together in a meaningful way to create effective practices that will spread throughout the mainland. It’s tough for me to imagine a world without bees in it, even as I watch a nearby oilseed sunflower crop dry down ahead of harvest quite suddenly, thanks to the wonders of modern chemistry. It’s tough for me to imagine a world without honey on my ‘Hopi Blue’ cornbread, too. So I choose hope over despair and continue to manage our farm so that the bees will find more of what they need right at home.

Six years ago, near the beginning of a typical Kansas drought (imagine watching your hand-pollinated heirloom corn crop turn from lush and alive to crispy green and dead in four days), I was heading to town with a tractor tire that needed repairs, and I saw my neighbor heading to the field with a pallet of seed on his flatbed. We waved and stopped right there in the middle of the gravel road, cab to cab, window to window, and chatted about the crazy season we’d experienced. My neighbor asked me what I thought about cover crops and proceeded to tell me that he’d decided to skip the fall chemicals and plant a mix of field peas, turnips, barley, and buckwheat on his failed corn ground. He had hope that there would be some late fall moisture — and there was! That winter, he didn’t have to sell his brood cows (due to a severe shortage of hay) because of the excellent forage those cover crops provided.

So, impressed by the soil health in that field, the following spring my neighbor committed to using cover crops for part of his annual rotation on about 4,000 acres — hoping to reduce his use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in the process. In time, my neighbor converted all of his tillable acres to a program employing polyculture cover crops as part of the annual rotation. And this knowledge has already been passed down to the next generation of his family.

Environmental, economic, and personal crises can all knock us out of our comfort zones. Hope can come out of the great need those crises evoke, and hope can drive hugely positive outcomes.

I’d love to be inspired by your stories of overcoming or even coping with crises by choosing hope over anger and despair. If you’d like to share, please feel free to send me an email at HWill@MotherEarthNews.com, and we just might put together a list of inspirational stories that will help us all keep on keeping on in these interesting times.

See you in February,