Debbie McSweeney of Peabody says the honeybee is the proverbial “canary in the coal mine.”
“If honeybees are being affected, that’s something to pay attention to,” she said. “Our food is at stake. Without pollinators, there is no food, like fruit. In the 1940s, there were more than four million bee colonies. Now there are less than two million.”
She is passionate about the need for pollinator habitat, much of which has been destroyed by turning meadows into farmland and using chemical sprays in fields and ditches.
She remains active in promoting the health and habitat of bees. As a member of Partners for Sustainable Pollination, a nonprofit organization in Canada and the United States, she was instrumental in establishing the Bee Friendly Farm Certification program. The group provided grants to establish bee-friendly forage. The program now is part of a much larger international organization.
McSweeney and her husband, Noel, own a six-acre homestead that is certified as a Bee Friendly Farm. It includes an organic garden, wildflowers, and other bee-friendly plants.
She was appointed by Kansas honey producers to serve on a Bee Friendly Farm Task Force. She gives talks around the state at honey producer meetings, primary schools, colleges, and universities.
“I’m a pollinator advocate,” she said. “I try to educate people on what they can do to support bees.”
McSweeney traveled to Washington, District of Columbia in October as a representative of the Bee Friendly Farm Certification program to a national conference on bee health at the Department of Agriculture.
Known as the North American Pollinator Protection Coalition, it brought together leading experts in pollination including volunteer advocates, researchers, chemical companies, and government officials.
The conference resulted in a presidential mandate to devise ways to improve the situation. As a result, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service now adds pollinator mixes into its conservation grass seedings. The Fish and Wildlife Service also is a contributor.
“Increasing bee habitat will help bees cope with the stresses on the environment,” McSweeney said.