A Trip to the Bee Farm
My eyes wander to the world outside the tiny school bus. An array of tall, evergreen trees follows the road to our destination. My grandmother once told me that koalas used to rest their bodies on large trunks while devouring hundreds of eucalyptus leaves. I suddenly realise there is not a small lump of fur in plain sight. The sound of fingers tapping on a microphone woke me up from my daze. “Ehrm okay children, get ready to go, we’re pulling up to the bee farm” my fifth-grade teacher announces. I slowly walk off the bus as a small pack of girls run towards a building that is oddly shaped like a beehive. Two ladies stood at the entryway dressed like they were about to fly into space. “Welcome children to our bee farm!” One of the ladies called out with a huge grin. I was surprisingly struck by their abundance of joy. The pair of older women reminded me of the overly excited people at the shops trying to convince you to buy their products. “My name is Susan and this is Jessie. Today, we are going to take you kids on a fun tour of our honey farm. All of you will have a chance to see the busy bee’s working hard” she said. I look around at my classmates with their mouths gaped in awe of the ladies. Arabella turned to two girls beside her, “I can’t wait to see the queen bee!” I’m looking around with someone with the same odd expression on their face. Instead, all I see is my classmates looking back at the ladies smiling like a Cheshire cat.
“Alright you lot come with me and let’s take a good look at the beehives,” Susan says to me and a group of others. She led us to an open landscape that had hundreds of white boxes lined up in neat rows. “Wait, where’s the beehive?” my classmate Liam asked. “No honey, these are apiaries! The busy bees and hives are located inside these boxes.” I couldn’t help but wonder if these boxes are just sweatshops for honey bees. I slowly raised my hand and waited for Susan’s acknowledgment. Once she noticed my curiosity I asked the question, “I thought bees naturally make honey? Why are they put in these little boxes?”
“Uhm, well yes. Bees make honey when they pollinate. But beekeeping also grows the population!” Susan says with a nervous look on her face.
“What about the plants?” I replied.
“Sure, bees use bees to pollinate but raise your hand if you love to put honey on your weetbix,” she asks the class. A sea of little arms is raised with their face uncontrollably nodding. “Keep your hand up if you like the scent of beeswax candles?” Susan asks again with the same wavering response from my classmates. “Okay class, we can all agree that farms are important for the bees but also to make the honey that we all love!”
I’m struck with a mix of confusion and amusement. Why is it okay for bees to be away from their natural habitat making honey for the masses of sugar-obsessed children? I know the role of bees is vital for a thriving ecosystem. I’ve seen the animated film, ‘Bee Movie’ okay? But maybe beekeeping isn’t that bad. No one else is disturbed by the mistreatment of these innocent creatures. The tour continued and I kept my thoughts and concerns within. The only thing more humiliating than those white space suits is getting scolded by someone wearing one. She continues to go on about the harvesting of honey, working bees, and of course, all the products for sale at the gift shop. I couldn’t help but notice the wilting wildflowers around the outskirts of the farm. Petals that should be a vibrant orange are now drier than the Australian desert. Susan then shows us the honeycomb which is covered with more honey bees than I could count. “Here we have the busy bees working hard to provide the finest raw honey in Brisbane. Did I mention that you can purchase our homegrown honey in the gift shop at the end of the tour?” She adds. Well yes, Susan you have mentioned the gift shop. We finally made it to the grand finale of the tour. The final stop that they’ve been eagerly anticipating since the beginning of the excursion. Groups of children suddenly run towards a huge sign that reads, “Queen Bee’s Gift Shop” in neon lights. Arabella and her friends are trying on honey body lotions and hair care, “I’m going to tell Mum I want this one.” Other kids are hugging plush toys and wearing bee costumes. Dozens of products ranging from food to body and bath, even t-shirts and blankets. Kids were jumping for joy like it was Christmas morning. Products started flying off the shelf one by one. The sound of the cash register opening and closing was periodic. People were rummaging through their pockets looking for spare change and a few kids even used their tuckshop money. I stand in the middle of the shop with the feeling that something isn’t right. A school excursion to learn about the endangerment of bees has turned into a spending spree. The class walks back onto the bus with bags filled with raw honey and merchandise. I sit alone empty-handed with only just the thoughts of those bees trapped in the tiny white boxes.
After dinner, I lay in bed scrolling through various websites to learn more about bee farms. It’s my turn for ‘show and tell’ tomorrow morning. It didn’t feel right to brag about the things I did on the weekend. Instead, I wanted to reveal the hard truths behind bee farming and its impact on the environment. I wanted to give my classmates the factual information that I wished I received from those crazy ladies in space suits. I spent the last few hours reading articles and listening to podcasts into the early hours of the morning. With every research paper I read, I become more upset with the hundreds of farms that mistreat bees for a paycheque. Every bit of hesitancy that I felt on the tour was even more justified. Tomorrow morning is not going to be like any other ‘show and tell.’ I was going to expose and reveal the bee farm.
I sit patiently at my desk waiting for the teacher to announce my name. Mrs. Bella is talking about today’s class plan but all I can focus on is remembering my talking points. Finally, my teacher announces, “Okay and now we have Jack to present us with his ‘show and tell’.” I make my way to the front of the class holding a manilla folder filled with posters and images bursting out of it. I take a glance at my classmates. Two girls are snickering to each other about a popular TikTok star. Another boy can barely keep two eyes open. A rush of nerves hits me like a ton of bricks. I somehow got the strength to clear my throat and open my mouth, “I wanted to share some information on the bee farm that we visited yesterday.” The two girls that were once talking turn their heads to take notice of me. “Do you know that an average worker bee makes only one-twelfth of honey in its lifetime?” More heads start to turn. “It’s pretty well known that the total bee population is declining. The beekeepers insisted that their farm helps grow more honey bees but unfortunately it’s only doing more damage.” Just like that, the eyes of every child are looking directly at me. My heart is quickening and my hands are shivering. I walk around the classroom placing a poster and a set of images on every table around the classroom. “Beekeeping, like what we saw yesterday, is a way to conserve pollinators. It’s great to see people supporting the pollinator movement, but humans managing hives does nothing to protect the wild pollinators. It’s the equivalent of farming chickens to save the wild birds.” The eyes of my peers are scanning the graphics and texts with curiosity. “High numbers of honey bees are harming wild bee populations because they are directly competing for pollen. In today’s world where resources are limited it’s harder than ever for wild bees to pollinate. The growing amount of honey bees caused by farms are pushing the wild bees out, making it harder for wildflowers to produce.” As I’m speaking, Mrs. Bella looks impressed as she nods her head in agreement. The nerves that once consumed me have settled. I can feel the confidence grow inside of me as my back aligns a little straighter. “While it’s still okay to enjoy the honey that we all love. We need to be conscious of the amount and where we buy our honey farm. I have attached a poster and a range of graphics to raise awareness and spread the message that we need to help our wild bees.” My presentation was met with a nerve-wracking silence from the class. I look around to see eyes widened and mouth gaped. It was as if they just found out that Santa Claus isn’t real. Before I had a chance to finish my presentation, the bell for morning tea rang through the loudspeaker. A crowd of kids quickly stood up and rushed for the door. At that moment, I felt as though the facts and information on wild bees fell on deaf ears. The only people left in that quiet classroom were me and the teacher. Mrs. Bella walks towards me with a soft smile, “thank you Jack for bringing an important issue to light. It’s people like you that will help make the world a better place.” I reply to my teacher with a small, yet polite nod. I slowly walk myself to the exit of the classroom. I made my way towards the school tuckshop when all of a sudden I saw a sight that I did not expect. The walls in the main hallway were covered in my poster. Images and graphics were taped to lockers for the rest of the school to see. Maybe I didn’t do too bad after all.