Bee Auburn seeking to raise awareness for pollinators through weeklong events

Published: Jun 15, 2017
Updated: Jun 19, 2017
Font Size

Article body

The City of Auburn, as well as Auburn University, has a long history in the area of agriculture. Few may realize, however, the history it has with pollinators as well.

Auburn Parks and Recreation has teamed up with the Auburn University College of Agriculture to host "Bee Auburn," a weeklong celebration of pollinators and their impact, beginning June 19.

"Bee Auburn is an initiative that we have with the City of Auburn to raise awareness about how pollination affects our daily lives, including our ecological, social and cultural environment," said Bashira Chowdhury, a pollination ecologist with the Bee Biodiversity Initiative in Auburn's College of Agriculture.

Bee Auburn coincides with National Pollinator Week, and events throughout the week will spotlight the importance bees have on health, history, culture, society and economy.

From pollinator-related food and beverage tastings to walks and a photography exhibit, the events are designed to raise awareness about the impact pollinators have on our daily lives.

The final day of the event is a big street fair and will take place Friday on Gay Street from 6-10 p.m. It will include live music, vendors, food and much more. Chowdhury says it will be a time to celebrate the wonders that pollination brings.

Each day's activities will take place at bee spots around the city. Bee spots are places that connect pollination as an ecosystem service to the people around it. Some bee spots include the Arboretum, the Medicinal Plant Garden, which has a variety of plants that require cross pollination, The Mary Olive Thomas Garden and also Tiger Dining because the food requires pollination.

"We are trying to create places where it's easy for people to develop a connection to how this ecosystem service affects them," Chowdhury said.

Tiger Dining locations can help people develop a connection to the importance of pollination through food.

"We work very closely with Emil Topel, the executive chef for Tiger Dining, and it's actually our collaboration with Emil that launched the connection with the city that led to Bee Auburn," said Chowdhury.

Although the week of Bee Auburn is a time to celebrate, it is also a time to learn and bring awareness to issues emerging in pollination.

"When it comes to pollination conservation, we have an issue that we have changed our landscape significantly such that we have disrupted a lot of the native plant pollinator relationships," Chowdhury said. "We want Bee Auburn to be a way to raise awareness of this."

In order to use some of the native dyes and fibers found in Alabama again, support for those pollination systems must be gained through changes in landscape. According to Chowdhury, this is not something that can be easily done.

"We do a lot of work with emerging crops, so this includes fibers, dyes and other plants that we can eat like American potato beans that are native to the state of Alabama or native to Auburn actually," she said. "We want to improve the ability to grow these crops in a commercial scale; however, we need to facilitate some landscape level changes that do this. We're just trying to promote the use of native plants as far as our economy, society and culture go because that will naturally bring more of those plants into our environment."

Chowdhury said the Bee Initiative is interested in improving native crop production. One crop they are looking into bringing back is elderberry, as a blue dye that goes into food and clothing.

"We import 90 percent of our elderberry crop for dyes from Europe," Chowdhury said. "Elderberry grows like a weed in every single county of Alabama. The dye market crazily enough is one of the fastest emerging markets right now so Alabama could be the American supplier for elderberry. There's no reason it couldn't."

Elderberries are not the only native crops to Alabama that Chowdhury interest. She said there are lots of others that do extraordinary well and are already climate adapted and do not take up much of our natural resources.

"They provide all kinds of economic benefit, as well as social and cultural benefits," said Chowdhury. "Some of these crops reach back into Alabama's heritage, and that's just what we're trying to celebrate with Bee Auburn."

For more information about Bee Auburn, visit the College of Agriculture website.