By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Colony collapse disorder isn't just a problem for big farms in the Midwest. It's a national malady that has hurt small and urban farms, even in Rhode Island.
City Farm, on the city's South Side, lost a majority of its two hives this year, presumably to the bee syndrome, which causes honeybees to unexpectedly vacate their hive and die. Two new swarms were eventually captured and brought to the farm to restore the colony.
On July 6, the farm, run by the Southside Community Land Trust, received a new hive thanks to a promotion by the University Heifhts Whole Foods Market on North Main Street.
The store's marketing manager, Bonnie Frechette, has pioneered what evolved into a national campaign to spread awareness about the bee epidemic and raise money for colony collapse disorder research.
"I had a vision that we should do this nationally. It took a few years and here we are," Frechette said as she delivered City Farm's new hive.
She started "a buzz in the community" in 2008, after learning about the plight of honeybees and the massive sudden die-offs at farms around the world. So far, one of the leading theories has linked pesticide exposure as a cause to this syndrome.
Local Whole Foods customers responded to a check-out line donation campaign and turned out for film screenings and educational events about bee-keeping and honey processing. Frechette even persuaded Gov. Lincoln Chafee to declare a Pollinator Week in June.
Frechette also joined forces with the Rhode Island Beekeepers Association to sponsor events. Through her involvement, she met fellow bee-lover and now fiancé Chris Combs. Together they run several hives and process honey at their home in Blackstone, Mass.
Frechette's bee campaign caught the attention of regional coordinators at Whole Foods, which led to a national meeting in Baltimore in 2010 and plans for this year's national launch of the honeybee sustainability program called "Share the Buzz."
At City Farm, the new hive will not only pollinate the produce, but it also will help teach frequent student visitors about the role honeybees play in growing everyday foods, from corn to tomatoes. "We feel like bees are misunderstood,'' said Rich Pederson, City Farm's steward. "Bees are fundamental to food because without bees there's no pollination and without pollination there's no fruit. It's an educational tool — that bees are good to have around."