Dear readers: If this sort of thing gets under your skin too – feel free to repost this! — Christy
January 26, 2013
United States Department of Agriculture
National Agricultural Statistics Service
1201 East 10th Street
Jeffersonville, IN 47132
RE: United States 2012 Census of Agriculture
Dear USDA –
Thank you for sending me the US 2012 Census of Agriculture survey to fill out. It is good to know that someone somewhere is collecting data regarding farming – since it is such an important part of our food system, and important to have this data.
And it was very nice to learn that if I filled out the survey online that I could skip questions that didn’t pertain.
So I set out to do just that on a cold Saturday morning in Maine, even though I suspected I wouldn’t find many of the questions relevant. Beekeeping is absolutely crucial to growing almost all food, and yet it’s been my experience that the business of a natural beekeeper doesn’t align well with any of the categories or the questions asked in an agriculture survey about farming in the US.
My suspicions were correct – the categories did not pertain. Not even the ones about beekeeping – in Section 19. Your assurance that I could skip irrelevant portions of the survey was not correct either. But the final straw, the one that convinced me to write this letter, was that when I got to the very end of the survey — after trying my best to make my beekeeping-related small business fit the categories, feeling like I was trying to fit the proverbial square peg into its round hole – the entire survey website blew up, crashed the internet browser and left me with only one option – starting over.
I’m sorry. I’m not going to do that. I’m going to offer you better, more meaningful information instead – information that you will need to incorporate into the next Census of Agriculture, due to the changes that are surely coming – and that are being caused by the way we currently grow food.
Which is where the problem begins. The way we grow food is broken. Monoculture agricultural practices, synthetic fertilizers, toxic chemical pesticides, and genetically modified crops are destroying what was formerly a natural and sustainable system.
The practice of growing thousands of acres of single crops may look to be efficient, but what use is efficiency if the practice of monoculture breaks the very system it is attempting to improve?
Chemicals are “required” in monoculture farming – not because the pests are a bigger problem than they are in organic farming, but because the imbalances inherent in a monoculture create an environment that supports the pests, and destroys the balance that would keep them in check.
Organic growing practices, and the balanced and integrated growing systems that support each other are the way forward if we are to preserve the health of the planet and the generations still to come. Don’t be confused by that mild sounding language. Here is what I just said, in plain words: If we want to stay alive – we must change the way we are growing food.
More chemicals are not the answer. Genetic modification is not the answer. Systemic pesticides are not an improved version of sprayed-on pesticides. The use of chemical inputs is not improving anything – it is only poisoning the planet, our children, and us. Again, don’t be confused by the mild language – these things are killing the earth and killing us. Slowly perhaps, certainly much more slowly than the gun problem we seem to have here in the US – but in the end we will all be just as dead. Is “Big Ag” too blind to see this?
My business, Gold Star Honeybees works to support natural backyard beekeeping with quality beekeeping equipment, and good information. So I build top bar beehive kits, I teach classes across the United States, and I authored a book called The Thinking Beekeeper that contains the information I teach in the class. I run a beekeeping business that does not lease huge tracts of land, does not hire large numbers of people, does not truck bees around the country, does not process and sell vast quantities of honey, and does not pour synthetic fertilizers on the land. It seems, based on your survey that if I am not doing those things, I am not involved in agriculture.
And yet without naturally raised bees – pollinating organically grown food – what will happen to farming? What will happen to our ability to grow food? The current system is currently taking us down a road to hell… do we have to get all the way into the fire and brimstone before we think to make a change?
But… attempting to be a law-abiding citizen, here are my responses to the survey:
Question 1 – Yes, this operation owned bees in 2012.
Question 2 – I kept 5 top bar hives.
To the best of my knowledge they were all still alive on December 31, 2012. (You do understand that you don’t see your bees when it’s below 48 degrees, don’t you?)
I think I collected approximately 30 pounds of honey. (I don’t keep close track.)
But the dollar figure to enter under “Value of Sales of honey “ – that’s an interesting question. I did not sell any of my honey – I kept it for my own use. It’s very good medicine for my pollen allergies – did you know that? Such honey is priceless. It is the only honey I can get that I know was produced locally so that it contains the pollen to which I am allergic, and that was made by chemical free bees, living on their own clean, natural wax.
Maybe it’s just the beekeeping portion of the survey – Section 19 – that needs to be revised. You may not be aware of it yet but there is a paradigm shift occurring in the bee world just like there is in the organic food world – away from the use of chemical pesticides and artificial inputs, and toward the restoration of a system that wasn’t broken before we humans (with our big brains and our opposable thumbs) tried to fix it.
But I think it’s far more likely that the whole agricultural system, and the whole agriculture survey, needs revision. I hope we as a country, choose to make the changes we need to make before it’s too late and there is nothing left to save – and no way to grow safe, healthy food.
Christy Hemenway, Founder
Gold Star Honeybees
PO Box 1061
Bath, ME 04530