On her lunch break at work, while her coworkers go to the cafeteria, Mary Mason often heads outside to sit in an orchard and check on the company bees. Mason, an engineer at Ford Motor Company, is the resident beekeeper for the 80,000 honeybees that live in hives next to one of the company’s factories in Michigan.
The bees help pollinate a massive green roof stretching over the factory. The hives–like smaller backyard hives across the country–also help draw attention to a bigger problem: A decade after mass die-offs of bees first made headlines, bees are still struggling.
Forty four percent of honeybee colonies died off last year, a decline driven by factors like pesticides, mites, diseases, and poor nutrition. (A government action plan for pollinators calls for reducing the annual die-off to 15%.)
At Ford, the hives sit near a visitor center, and they are an official stop on school tours, where kids can learn about bees and the challenges they face.
For Mason, taking care of the bees is also a way to de-stress at lunch or after work. “It’s calming,” she says. “It brings me closer to nature. It’s just really soothing. Even just hearing them buzz when I’m coming closer to the hive. I’ll take a chair and sit closer to the hive and I’ll watch them for an hour.”
Ford isn’t the only company with corporate beehives: Google and others have also installed beehives at their headquarters.
Still, beekeepers warn that it’s only something that companies should do if they have someone to actively manage the hive. Without careful management, people can actually make things worse for bees. “You have to work to keep them healthy,” says Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center at the University of California-Davis. “If you’re a lazy beekeeper, you’re potentially spreading disease.”
Something that everyone can do, instead, is plant more bee-friendly plants. Pollinator gardens can help honeybees–and native species of bees, butterflies, and birds–find enough to eat.
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