Farming, Modern Grange


"One-third of our food wouldn't exist without bees. But the bees are in trouble. A few years ago, they started dying. And not just our bees. They're dying all over the world."

So intones narrator John Hurt in Markus Imhoof's 2013 documentary, More Than Honey. Universally acclaimed (achieving a rare 100 percent approval score on the rancorous film review site Rotten Tomatoes), More Than Honey takes an objective look at the international state of the honeybee.

We're proud to screen this new film in our upstairs Grange on Sunday, Feb. 16, at 7pm.

Joining us that night will be local apiaculturalists Barbara Schlumberger and Michael Thiele. Schlumberger and her husband Jacques established the Melissa Garden some eight years ago to provide a sanctuary for honey bees. But, Schlumberger says, "once we saw what was happening, it became a sanctuary for all living things, including humans."

Open to the public one Friday a month, the Melissa Garden is a pollinators' haven, including the 1,700 varieties of bees native to California, as well as humming birds, bats, moths, and other creatures who naturally stick their noses (beaks, probosces, etc.) into something with pollen and then stick their noses, beaks, probosces, etc., into something else with pollen. Pollinating is that easy. But it couldn't be more important.

Einstein is said to have postulated that we would run out of food worldwide after just four years if we had no pollinators. To boost their health, the Melissa Garden offers constant sustenance to its natural visitors.

"We have something blooming for them all year round," Schlumberger says, noting that the garden is planted mostly to natives. There are three acres of manzanita, and they're all in bloom right now. Rosemary flowers year-round and is in ample supply, and, with the recent rains, the mustard is coming out. 

Would that all gardens be as welcoming. But as More Than Honey dispassionately shows, honey bees are increasingly conscripted into factory farming, as when thousands of hives are transported each spring to work the Central Valley's almond groves. Moreover, they're dying of a mysterious malady known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Thought to be caused by a number of stressors, including viruses, CCD hasn't yet been fully identified and no cure has yet been devised. 

"People say, 'Oh, we've heard that they're OK now,'" Schlumberger says. "But it's not so simple and that's what the film shows. [CCD] affects everything on the planet."

Thiele's Gaia's Bees takes a three-part holistic approach to apiaculture that allows him to commune so deeply with the bees that he can actually move a swarm with his bare hands. Both Thiele and Schlumberger, who is also a pyschotherapist, will introduce More Than Honey and invite audience comment after the film's screening.

"The movie speaks for itself," Schlumberger says, "But we're hoping that people will stay afterwards and have a discussion. They'll be so moved. We hope that they'll tell us what they saw. We don't want them to just get up and walk away, because they're going to have so many feelings.

"This is really serious," she says, "because it's our food system."

'More Than Honey' screens in the Grange on Sunday, Feb. 16, at 7pm. $10. Advance tickets ensure admission


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