Bees: Building Community and Saving the Environment (The Lexington Storytelling Project)
By: Anna Hazewindus
The bees swarm around her head as beekeeper Alix Bartsch calmly rehomes a swarm of bees into their new apiaries, seemingly unfazed by a commotion that would often cause panic to most. She points out the queen bee, twice as big as the other bees.
“She can lay up to 3000 eggs a day this time a year,” Bartsch explains as she holds up the queen.
The confidence in which Alix Bartsch operates is reflective of her 42 years as a professional beekeeper. She started her practice in Lexington after encouragement from her high school biology teacher. Five years ago, Bartsch passed one of the most challenging beekeeping tests and became one of three certified master beekeepers in Massachusetts. As a sideline beekeeper she rescues honey bees and provides them with a safe home but her passion lies in mentoring and counseling the high school beekeeping club and adults on beekeeping, endangerment, and all-around care for bees.
Bartsch's passion for bees has made her a pillar of environmental advancement in her community. Together with the Lexington High School Bee club, she made Lexington the first Bee City in Massachusetts, a designation that protects and promotes the wellness of bees in Lexington.
“I think that now that we’re a bee city, people are very proud of that and will continue to be mindful of what they are doing in Lexington and how we can make the environment better for pollinators and all kinds of wildlife," says Bartsch.
While the title of Bee City is a huge accomplishment, the importance of bees is often undermined.
“A third of all the food we eat is pollinated by honey bees so they are critical to our food supply. They are the third most important agricultural livestock after cows, cattle, and pigs in the US,” explains Bartsch. An important local example is the contribution of bees to the local interfaith garden which sends produce to local food pantries and relief programs.
“One of my favorite quotes is by a friend of mine who runs the interfaith garden in Downtown Lexington, she said ‘when we got the bees our produce doubled, it was an enormous difference,” recalls Bartsch, as she thinks of all the work the group has accomplished.
While the welfare of bees is symbiotically connected with ours, honey bees are often misunderstood by the public as being dangerous and aggressive.
“Bees have different temperaments, just like people,” explains Bartsch. While concerns of Africanized bees, or “killer bees” have been circling the internet Bartsch clarifies that, “they evolved in Africa where they had so many predators that evolutionarily they had to be a lot more aggressive.” And while Bartsch has encountered hives that were once calm but turned aggressive she seems unphased.
“Everything depends on the queen,” Bartsch said, drawing on her years of experience. “If I have a very aggressive hive, one thing I can do is replace the queen with a new queen and then wait a few weeks and then they’ll be better”.
To combat these misconceptions, Alix Bartsch and the Lexington Bee Club are exposing the youth of Lexington to bees and their importance to the environment. The two bee club presidents are working with a second-grade teacher in Lexington to try and spread the word.
“It is very important when little kids see bees, and instead of saying, ‘ah a bee runaway’ they see that they’re friendly, we’re not afraid, and it's all good then they think it's all okay. Hopefully, some of these kids around the Boston area will go on to study bees, solve some problems that bees are having right now, and maybe become beekeepers.”