Lexington mother-daughter duo want to “bee” new hope

October 2nd, 2016 by Al Gentile

While Carla Fortmann employs her own two hands as well as volunteers to manage her carrots, tomatoes and arugula, the buzzing of over 40,000 bees keeps the crop growing.

“After we got the beehives, we doubled our production,” Fortmann, who manages the Lexington Interfaith Garden on Harrington Road, said. “We’re now close to 2,000 pounds each season.”

Alexandra Bartsch of Follen Road started working the two hives that house the approximately 40,000 bees behind Fortmann’s house two years ago. Her daughter Anastasia, a Lexington High School student, has adopted her mother’s long love and fascination for bees and has begun a club called the Lexington Beekeeper’s Association to educate and advocate for bees.

Though the club does not deal directly with beehives, Anastasia said the group is trying to build educational programming and, someday, bring beekeeping to the school.

Alexandra is a member of the Middlesex County Beekeepers Association, worked as an inspector of apiaries, commonly known as bee colonies, for the state, and is a certified master beekeeper by the Eastern Agricultural Society.

Alexandra said this is an extension of a long-held passion which began because of a Lexington High biology teacher in the 1970s.

“She inspired me,” Bartsch said. “I’ve been keeping bees for a very long time. Bees are absolutely fascinating.”

Anastasia said her first memories of bees were not particularly pleasant. A bee sting at a summer camp had an impact though Anastasia can laugh about it now.

“I was just really freaked out,” Anastasia said. “After that, you know what’s happening.”

Now, having managed bees with her mother for years, Anastasia hopes to educate her peers at the high school about the insects’ importance. Outside of official club activities, other Lexington High School students are working with Anastasia at the hives behind Fortmann’s house.

A 2014 report from the federal government said honey bees, one of the key pollinators of food, accounts for $15 billion in national economic value annually. The honey bee population is experiencing massive die-offs from harmful production practices, mite infestations, and most importantly according to Anastasia, pesticides.

Neonicotinoids, Anastasia said, are a chemical that is highly toxic to bees and is used in many pesticides. She hopes through her advocacy against the chemical can lead to lasting change.

“They’re bad for bees and nobody recognizes that,” Anastasia said. “We hope to make a lasting impact.”

The past year has been particularly devastating for honey bee populations, Alexandra said. She said almost half of honey bees died off.

The varroa mite, a pest which feeds on bees, contributed greatly to the problem recently.

“We have more challenges with beekeeping now than we ever have,” Alexandra said. “It’s really in the past 10 years [mites] have been a problem.”

A new hope

Since holding their first meeting, Anastasia said more than 30 students have signed up for the club interested in learning more about what they can do.

Anastasia said she was surprised how many young people showed up to the first meeting.

“It’s not a thing a lot of high schoolers are doing,” Anastasia said.

Alexandra said the growing awareness is helpful to bringing the problems plaguing bee populations globally to the forefront of economic policy.

“So many people are aware of the honey bees,” Alexandra said. “People understand how important they are and how fascinating they are. You see that seed grow, but when it flowers, and there are no bees, it’s going to die.”

For her part, Anastasia is hopeful yet worried.

“It’s not too late, but it’s getting close,” Anastasia said.

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