America’s Tiny Farmers

One of our favorite things about summer is cooking with delicious summer squash. Tender and versatile, summer squash comes in a dazzling array of shapes and sizes, from zucchini to green and yellow zephyr to eight ball to pattypan (think adorable flying saucer). Like tomatoes, corn and eggplant, summer squash is a seasonal must.

bee pollinators summer squash

But growing it isn’t a simple proposition. It takes serious teamwork, and one of the the most important players isn’t human. Buzzing between squash blossoms, tiny bees perform an essential service: in exchange for sugary nectar, they transfer pollen, which allows the plant to fruit. And squash isn’t the only crop that depends on them. Around 75 percent of all flowering plants rely on pollinators like bees—a category that includes countless fruits, nuts and vegetables.

061716_BeePollination_Blog_V01_04Few people know that most farms today rent honeybee hives to fill this need. They’re brought in for just long enough, then transported elsewhere. But this isn’t the best solution. The carbon footprint of bee transportation is significant, and honeybee populations are dwindling. It would be better if farms could pollinate with native bees—the thousands of species that have called North America home since before the honeybees arrived.

061716_BeePollination_Blog_V01_06Enter the Urban Bee Lab at the University of California, Berkeley. In their project “Farming for Native Bees,” the Urban Bee Lab is helping to attract native bee populations to farms by creating custom habitats. One of the farms they’re working with is a friend of Blue Apron’s: Dwelley Farms, a third-generation family-run farm in Northern California. Over the last year, Dwelley has grown several crops for Blue Apron, including beautiful eight ball squash.

“It was fortune that brought us together, actually,” says Patrick Johnston, managing partner at the farm. “Dr. Gordon Frankie”— principal investigator at the Urban Bee Lab—“came to buy a fruit pie at our stand.” Johnston and Frankie got to talking, and with guidance from the University, the farm ended up installing its own custom habitats. Today, they’re abuzz with about 75 different species, including the squash bee, which actually outshines the honeybee when it comes to pollinating squash.

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“Our team is talking to other farms about installing native bee habitats. A lot of really thoughtful planning goes into it,” says Alison Grantham, Ph.D., Blue Apron’s agroecologist and farm sourcing operations manager. “We’re just getting started.”

A few other Blue Apron suppliers helping to build native bee populations are Say Hay Farms, also in Northern California; Reeves Farm in Upstate New York; and The Home Grown Farm in Central Texas. Say Hay uses bee boxes and bee blocks (much like birdhouses) to provide homes for different species, as well as a pollinator strip (a ditch filled with wildflowers) to attract bees and other pollinators. Reeves also uses bee boxes, and Home Grown partners with a bee rescue non-profit that removes beehives from unwanted places and brings them to the farm.

061716_BeePollination_Blog_V01_12 (1)We’re incredibly excited about these amazing projects. Our thanks to the Urban Bee Lab, Dwelley, Say Hay, Reeves, Home Grown and the other farms we’re working with to help cultivate native bee populations for their commitment to building a better food system.

And thanks to the bees for making it all possible!

 

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