Our modern lives pull us in many directions. Continually trying to prove ourselves, we attempt to be good at everything. This leads us down a path where we perform many tasks, but never excel at one particular endeavor. Not many of us set out to become average, but that’s exactly where we end up by agreeing to every request.
At the pinnacle of her professional life, Anne Marie Fauvel made a choice to begin saying no to most requests and start agreeing to only those things that she truly wanted to pursue.
Turns out that saying no is very powerful and freeing. “Saying no opened up opportunities that would not have materialized if I had been saying yes to everything,” Fauvel said.
It was an event that most would consider inconsequential that changed the trajectory of Fauvel’s life. “Poking my head into a honey bee colony changed my life,” she said.
Fauvel was teaching environmental studies, ecology, and liberal studies at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Teaching about food systems and how human interaction influences natural systems led her to become interested in bees.
That first look into the hive revealed a fascinating glance into an alien existence. “Inside the hive is an entirely different world that is highly organized. Every individual has a job which they perform expertly. The hives’ ability to thrive depends on each individual working toward a common goal,” Fauvel said.
Fauvel’s fascination with honey bees took flight immediately. She brought hives to campus, began conducting research, and developed courses focused on bees to teach students.
At the time, Fauvel was reading Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.
“McKeown’s book helped me identify my priorities and gave me permission to start saying no to those things that didn’t align [with] these priorities.”
She began saying yes to bees and no to everything else. Giving up the security of an established career, Fauvel concentrated her efforts to learn everything there was to know about honey bees.
Connecting with experts around the country is a slippery slope for someone who loves learning. The more Fauvel learned, the more questions she had. Dedicated to researching and learning about the hidden ultra-organized honey bee society and what actually goes on inside bee boxes, she jumped into this intriguing foreign world.
“Bees are a perfect vehicle for interdisciplinary interests. Activities inside the hive are directly related to the world beyond their box,” Fauvel said.
The complex layered society in which bees thrive gives us a unique glimpse into ourselves and our place in the world, according to Fauvel.
Honey bees exist in an organized yet adaptable world. In the hive, bees have a place for everything: Their pollen, honey production, and nursey are all efficiently placed. Surrounding the nursery, they have stores of pollen, used to feed the young bees, and honey to provide energy for the workers as they care for the young.
Also separate are their roles within the bee society. However, these roles change with the age of a bee and the needs of their society. Worker bees can be recruited to become foragers at a moment’s notice, should the need arise. Each member’s role is intricately coordinated for the good of the group.
The division of labor allows each individual to excel at a particular task, yet have the flexibility to adapt accordingly to environmental and colony fluctuating dynamics. In bee society, all individuals are working together to make a whole. Teamwork and flexibility are paramount to success.
“All my life, I worked to better my weaknesses while setting aside those skills where I naturally excelled,” Fauvel said. Bees taught her that building teams of individuals whose skills are varied and complement each other would be a far more successful route than to have one person attempting to tackle everything and not excel at anything.
Fauvel now combines her planning, teaching, and organizational skills with her interest in bees. She keeps her hand in the academic world by combining her passions for ecology, food systems, and bees to teach an occasional course. But her main focus is working with The Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) as the organization’s Tech Transfer Team Coordinator. This nonprofit organization gathers and analyzes field data on bees that assist beekeepers in making well-informed day-to-day decisions concerning the management of their colonies. BIP maintains the most extensive database in the United States focused on bee colony health. Fauvel’s role is to coordinate the field experts who are responsible for data collection.
This is no small task, because a vast number of honey bees are needed around the country at different times of the year. As crops grow and flower, they require pollination to produce seeds, nuts, fruit, vegetables, and many other products that we use daily.
Animal pollinators are the unsung heroes of agriculture, providing pollination services for hundreds of crops that wouldn’t bear fruit without them. Honey bees are responsible for nearly 100 percent of almond and cranberry production. Beekeepers transport their hives around the country, renting bees to ensure that crops are pollinated. It’s estimated that 2 million colonies of honey bees are needed on the road each year, pollinating crops across the United States. The number of bees in a colony varies seasonally with about 13,000 workers in the winter to 50,000 in the summer. This means that in spring during pollination, there are billions of bees hard at work providing the food that will end up your table.
Pollinators contribute billions of dollars to our economy by producing food and other products. A Forbes article states: “Every season, pollination from honey bees, native bees, and flies deliver billions of dollars (U.S.) in economic value. Between $235 and $577 billion (U.S.) worth of annual global food production relies on their contribution.” A Cornell study reveals that honey bees contributed $14.6 billion to our economy in 2000.
Pollinator populations are declining across the world, which will lead to food insecurity if the decline continues. Because commercial honey bee populations are crucial for our food production, organizations such as BIP, Project Apis m., and others are dedicated to studying what factors contribute to the decline of those populations, as well as the most successful practices needed to maintain their health.
Honey bee colonies’ losses are at an all-time high. The extraordinary effort among beekeepers and research organizations such as BIP has enabled the U.S. population of honey bees to remain stable. But many pollinator populations are declining. Recently, a few species of pollinators have been added to the endangered species list.
“If honey bee annual colony losses stay on the current trajectory, the price of food will likely rise,” Fauvel said. Unfortunately, it may take price increases for people to realize just how much we depend on this incredible winged workforce and to realize everyone needs to contribute to the health of pollinators, she said.
Fauvel recommends that we limit the use of pesticides, eat local foods, plant pollinator gardens, and teach children the connection between pollinators and our food. “Kids are fascinated by insects,” she said. “They love to play in the dirt and grow things.”
This all adds up to the perfect time to expose children to gardening. A window box with herbs, a few containers with flowers, or a small vegetable garden: It doesn’t need to be a large project to develop that critical connection between how we care for our environment and the food we eat, according to Fauvel.
The interconnectedness of nature is where Fauvel has found the fascination that drives her passions. As an ecologist, she’s aware that the struggles faced by one species will reverberate through the entire living system. What happens to honey bees affects us. The time to change the world for the better is right now. Working in harmony with each other and the environment is possible.
Bees provide us with an incredible example of this.
It’s the worker bees who make decisions in response to their environment that benefit the entire group. “We can learn much from bees and their harmonious society,” Fauvel said.
“Choosing to become part of a team, we build understanding that isn’t possible from a singular perspective. Identifying our skills and surrounding ourselves with collaborative team members who possess different strengths enable a richer view of the world. The results of our labor are exponentially greater as a team.”
The bees became the teacher and the professor became the student once she first look into the bee box.
If we’re fortunate, we will learn that saying no is empowering and fulfilling. Saying no gives us the freedom to concentrate our efforts in one direction enabling us to play to our strengths, collaborate with talented team members aiming toward universal goals, and produce amazing results.