Protecting Pollinators: Our Research Partnership with Bee Girl Organization
In this article:
- The Power of Pollinators
- Bee Girl Organization
- The Research Project
- Project Highlights
- What Comes Next?
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
Deeply inspired by Bee Girl’s work and mission, Banyan Botanicals is sponsoring a multi-year partnership with the organization and Banyan Farm in Southern Oregon. Banyan Farm is a small, certified organic farm that uses sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices.
The main goals of the partnership are 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 being implemented throughout the project include 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 fact, bee-friendly seed mix has already been ordered in response to Sarah's recommendation to cultivate bee pasture in unplanted areas. Seeding barren areas in this way will help to increase pollinator habitat as well as the natural beauty of the landscape.
The project plans also include reducing soil tillage, which will serve 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.
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 began identifying and cataloging the state of pollinator diversity at the farm in 2022, monitoring specific plant species for pollinator activity. The plants targeted included ashwagandha, echinacea, marshmallow, peppermint, and tulsi.
In addition to these plants, bees were also found interacting with amaranth, strawflowers, marigolds, alsike clover, crimson clover, red clover, star thistle, chicory, madia, great mullein, moth mullein, yellow clover, plantain, and tithonia (a host for monarch butterflies!).
If you're interested in supporting your own local bee habitat, we encourage you to plant this beautiful flowering herb in your garden or in your local communities.
The long list of pollinator species it supports includes not only honeybees and bumble bees, but long-tongued bees, digger bees, leaf-cutting bees, carpenter bees, normadine cuckoo bees, bee flies, halictidae bees, short-tongued bees, and green metallic bees.
Echinacea also acts as host to several butterflies, including monarchs, sulfurs, swallowtails, whites, fritillaries, and silvery spotted skippers.
In addition to the herbs already mentioned, the list of plants being monitored for pollinator activity this year has expanded to include skullcap, bhringaraj, spearmint, chamomile, chicory, calendula, and red clover.
While planting native plants is agreed to support native pollinators6, we are also particularly curious to learn more about the value that non-native herbs—such as ashwagandha and tulsi—can potentially offer to overall pollinator diversification and health in our bioregion of Southern Oregon.
As an Ayurvedic company rooted in the understanding that healthy humans are dependent upon healthy communities and ecosystems, Banyan is excited to continue supporting this project in the years to come.
Stay tuned to learn more about what we discover as we tune into the wise wild buzz of our local pollinator communities. We know that the more we learn how to support and protect them, the more the natural world can thrive.
And in turn, a thriving natural world benefits us all.