Protecting Pollinators: Our Research Partnership with Bee Girl Organization

Protecting Pollinators: Our Research Partnership with Bee Girl Organization

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At its heart, Ayurveda teaches that the key to true well-being lies in our connection with nature. Inherent in this approach is the understanding that we are part of a much greater whole—a living, breathing tapestry of biodiversity that connects us to all of life. 

This interconnected web of relationships exists on a small scale within our individual bodies and also extends to include the plants, people, animals, and ecosystems all around us.

One of the clearest and most important examples of this interdependent system can be seen in the power of pollinators. 

Having coevolved with plants since the beginning of time, pollinators are essential to the health of the planet, the health of our food sources, and the health of our human bodies. 

Without them, nature’s elegantly designed balance would quickly falter and life on earth would change dramatically, or perhaps even cease to exist. 

At Banyan, we recognize that we are a small but integral part of a bigger story and that the choices we make now will influence the well-being of the planet, well into the future.

In alignment with our core value to honor the sanctity of nature, one of our commitments to the environment is to protect and build biodiversity. That’s why we’ve partnered with Bee Girl Organization in a multiyear research project to improve bee habitat and monitor pollinator diversity at the Banyan Farm. 

The Power of Pollinators

When we talk about pollinators, we’re talking about more than just bees. While honeybees may be the most famous and beloved species of pollinators, plants are also commonly pollinated by birds, bats, butterflies, beetles, wasps, and even flies.1

Tiny but mighty, pollinators play an essential role in the overall health of an ecosystem by carrying pollen from one flowering plant to another, allowing the plant to reproduce and continue to grow and thrive. 

Pollinators are also essential to the health and survival of humans and animals, as they play a key role in the production of most of our plant-based food sources.2

Beyond the plants we depend upon as humans, pollinators are also essential for maintaining healthy, balanced, and biodiverse ecosystems. When the plants are healthy, well established, and thriving, they give off oxygen and clean the air, contributing to a healthy climate, while also preventing soil erosion and providing the natural habitats and food sources for surrounding wildlife populations.3

Just as healthy plants and ecosystems depend on pollinators, pollinators need healthy and biodiverse ecosystems in order to thrive. 

This means pollinators need healthy and mineral-rich soil, happy healthy plants, and protein-rich pollen.

Unfortunately, pollinators face a plethora of current challenges that threaten their health and survival, including conventional farming practices that use chemicals and pesticides. Even the tilling of soil can harm pollinator health by damaging the natural structure, nutrient content, and microbial activity that contributes to healthy plants and pollen.4

Thankfully, organic farming mitigates some of these challenges. Oxford University scientists have found that, on average, organic farms support 34 percent more plant, insect, and animal species than conventional farms, and for pollinators such as bees, the number of different species was 50 percent higher on organic farms.5
 

bee girl in field of ashwagandha

Bee Girl Organization

The more we learn of the interrelationship between plants, pollinators, and ecosystems, the more committed we are to supporting our pollinators. But how? Enter the Bee Girl Organization!

The Bee Girl Organization is a grassroots nonprofit centered on bee habitat conservation through research, regeneration, and education. 

With a background in beekeeping, much of their current work revolves around regenerative agriculture, native bee conservation, and wildlife coexistence.

The organization was founded by Sarah Red-Laird, whose long-time commitment to bees, conservation, and environmental policy has landed her in such roles as the director of the American Beekeeping Federation’s “Kids and Bees” program, the president of the Northwest Farmers Union and Western Apicultural Society, and a board member of the National Farmers Union. 

Since launching Bee Girl, Sarah and her team have worked side by side with ranchers, farmers, vineyards, universities, government entities, policy makers, and partner nonprofits throughout Oregon, Montana, the Great Basin, and into the Great Plains. 

With pollinator and habitat health at the center of their mission, Bee Girl seeks to understand and address issues in agriculture that affect bees and to create collaborative win-win solutions for both bees and producers.

Introducing the Research Project 

Deeply inspired by Bee Girl’s work and mission, Banyan Botanicals sponsored a partnership with the organization and Banyan Farm in Southern Oregon throughout 2022 and 2023. Banyan Farm is a small, certified organic farm that uses sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices.

The main goals of the partnership were to: 

  • Identify pollinator diversity on the farm
  • Understand specific plant-pollinator interactions
  • Improve pollinator habitat and diversity
  • Provide nutrient-rich pollen for the bees and other pollinators
  • Ensure that the farm is making a positive overall impact on pollinators and the local ecosystem

Some of the main practices implemented throughout the project included utilizing native herbs, vegetables, flowers, and crop pasture mix in order to attract more diverse pollinator populations and contribute to a balanced local ecosystem. 

In response to Sarah's recommendation to cultivate bee pasture in unplanted areas, bee-friendly seed mix was planted as a cover crop specifically for pollinators.

Seeding barren areas in this way helps to increase pollinator habitat as well as the natural beauty of the landscape.

The project also included reducing soil tillage, which served to improve the health and nutrient content of the soil and the plants that grow in it, resulting in more nutritious pollen becoming available to the pollinators.

Not only do these actions support pollinator health, biodiversity, and resilient ecosystems, but they come with the added value of improving soil, restoring water cycles, and sequestering carbon to fight climate change.

Highlights Worth Sharing

After centuries of coevolution, plants and pollinators have established unique and specific relationships. Because of this, growing certain types of plants is a good way to attract and support specific types of pollinators.

With this is mind, Sarah and the Bee Girl Organization identified and cataloged the state of pollinator diversity at the farm throughout 2022 and 2023, monitoring specific plant species for pollinator activity and focusing on bees in particular. 

The following highlights illustrate a snapshot of Bee Girl’s fascinating findings throughout the course of the project:

  • Banyan Farm has an exceptional diversity of nesting habitats and nesting behaviors, which indicates a healthy ecosystem. This is likely related to the rich plant diversity of the farm as well as its proximity to the forest. 
  • The high number of ground nesting bees indicates that the soil on the farm is stable and pesticide free.
  • The farm is a refuge for two species of bumble bees that are listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (ICUN) Red List of Threatened Species.
  • The farm has an impressive array of flowers throughout the year, and the crops grown for Banyan Botanicals make extraordinary resources for bees, providing pollen, nectar, and resin.
  • Many of the bees are forest dwellers and aren’t commonly observed on farms. These bees enjoy the best of both worlds, with the ability to build their homes in the protected forest habitat and then fly a short distance to collect food and nesting materials like flower petals, leaves, and resins.
  • The rich abundance of botanical species on the farm supports a diverse array of bees. Banyan Farm is a sanctuary for at least 50 different species! 
  • The plants that were most heavily visited by bees included phacelia, echinacea, marshmallow, tulsi, and calendula.

What Comes Next?

Our partnership with Bee Girl Organization has shown that there is a phenomenal and thriving pollinator community at Banyan Farm! And by monitoring the pollinator activity of specific plants and cover crops throughout the course of this project, we are well prepared to continue building pollinator-friendly habitat in the years to come. 

In 2024 and moving forward, we plan to continue planting cover crops, herbs, flowers, and other plants that will attract and support healthy pollinators.

As an Ayurvedic company rooted in the understanding that healthy humans are dependent upon healthy communities and ecosystems, Banyan is excited to continue tuning into the wise wild buzz of our local pollinator communities and learning how we can better support and protect them.

We know that the more we learn, the more the natural world can thrive. And in turn, a thriving natural world benefits us all.