Every the first register I see and type my

Every morning, I say a little prayer before walking through the sliding doors of my job. I’m not a religious person, never really appealed to me and yet life as a Weis manager has broken down my skepticism enough for me to believe that maybe a tiny prayer each morning will help restore my patience. It hasn’t yet but I keep trying anyways. I approach the first register I see and type my employee numbers into the screen and clock myself in for another day at actual hell and start heading toward the back. Things are quiet, there’s no morning shuffle behind the bakery counter like usual. I don’t think I can even hear Carl behind the dairy shelves doing his usual milk restock. Where is everyone? But as soon as I push open those double doors leading to the stockroom, I have my answer. Here are all my employees, every last one of the morning shift, huddled around the breakroom tv. Carl is the first to notice me. “Julia, we don’t have any apples.” he stares at me blankly. “What are you talking about, Carl? Of course we have apples.” I start to take off my coat but then Dave from bakery turns to me. “No, Julia, he’s right. We don’t have any apples.” “Or cherries.” Jenna from customer service chimes in. “Or cranberries. Or blueberries.” Joe from meats says, biting away at his nubs of fingernails. I stare them. They stare at me. I start to laugh. “What are you all talking about? Did the truck not come in this morning? Because if that’s the case, we can get that sorted out. No need to get all melodramatic.” “No, geez, Julia. You’re not listening,” Jenna starts cradling her head in her hands, “the bees-” “The bees?” “God, I always heard about the bees but never really thought anything of it, you know? It didn’t really seem important at the time. I mean, how could bees go extinct? Can’t they reproduce? Just make babies? God, I didn’t know.” Jenna’s practically in hysterics now. I’m about to ask her if she’s still experiencing symptoms from her flu outbreak last week when Carl grabs me by the shoulders. “Julia, we don’t have any apples.” his eyes are so intense, I’m starting to worry if he caught what Jenna has. I look at all of them, thinking of the repercussions of having to give everyone a sick day is going to be before something sliding across the tv catches my eye. BEES NEARLY EXTINCT. WHAT THIS MEANS FOR GROCERY STORES EVERYWHERE: APPLES FIRST TO GO. It’s the channel 7 news and above the anchor woman’s head is a picture of a bee with a slashed circle around it. Mental puzzle pieces start fitting together and I’m briefly reminded of my high school biology class ten years ago and the brief week we studied the importance of the relationship between plant pollination and pollinators like… bees. I look back at Carl who’s still holding my shoulders, all the intensity finally starting to make sense. “We don’t have any apples.” I say quietly. He shakes his head solemnly. “No one does.” Imagine that, walking into your local food store and they tell you that they don’t have half of the produce they normally would. No apples, no cranberries, no watermelon, no broccoli, no cherries, no almonds, and the list went on. But that’s fine, you keep shopping anyway because this is starting to become normal. You’re probably now thinking, “in what world would a grocery store with half of its goods lost be normal?” Well, in a world without bees, it very well would. Our lives, really the world as a whole, would be a much different place if bees didn’t exist. There is an apocalyptic quote attributed to Albert Einstein (although there is no proof he actually said it): “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years left to live.” (Benjamin). So wait, what does that actually mean? Why are little things like bees so important? Bees are essentially responsible for pollinating about one-sixth of the flowering plant species worldwide and approximately 400 different agricultural types of plant (Why). Just to brush up on some high school science class trivia, pollination is essentially plant reproduction. It’s easier to think about like the same way we are taught about our reproduction process: when a male flower loves a female flower, it wants to transfer pollen from its own male bits to the lady bits of female flowers. But like every other bachelor on the prowl for a love, he’s nothing without his wingman (pun not intended). That’s where the pollinator comes in, helping the male flower reel the lady flower in. A few days later, boom! A baby plant is made. While bees are not the only pollinators we have (bats, birds, butterflies, and some flies can do this work almost just as well), they’re by far the best ones for the job. In part, this is because they need pollen to feed their own offspring. Because of this, they have this underlying, biological desire that drives them to gather the stuff. Other pollinators visit flowers only to suck nectar, any pollen that sticks to them in the process and manages to fertilize another flower is more of a serendipitous event. So, bees are important to the pollination of flowers. Nothing new, right? We all knew that. What most of us don’t know is that bees play a much bigger role in our own food chain than we realize. Bees don’t just keep our garden flowers looking pretty, they keep the doors to our grocery stores open. A third of the food that we eat depends on pollinating insects: vegetables like zucchini, fruits like apricot, nuts like almonds, spices like coriander, edible oils like canola, and many more (Situation). In Europe alone, the growth of over 4,000 vegetables depends on the essential work of pollinators. But who really cares about some fruits and vegetables, right? We still have other sources of food that don’t require pollination like meat, dairy products, different seafoods. But because plants and animals are so interdependent, meat and dairy products would most likely also become scarce if we were to lose the bees. Let’s put this another way, the money way. Honey bees, alone (there are various types of bees that help us in various aspects), are responsible for  about $30 billion a year in crops (Future). Just in 2010, they provided us with approximately $19 billion worth of agricultural crops. In 2010, other animal pollinators such as bats, moths, butterflies, hummingbirds, ants, and beetles, contributed to an estimated $10 billion in crops. To say bees (and other pollinators) help us sustain our food system is a gross understatement. They’re vital to our survival, our lives depend on theirs. So, bees are really, really important in the continuation of life as we know it. That’s understood now but what’s happening? Why is it important that we know just how important they are at this specific moment in time? Because bees are dying. Most people have heard about colony collapse disorder, which wiped out a third of all honeybee colonies in the US when it first struck back in 2007. The disorder is still not fully understood because it’s hard to pin down one direct cause, but it’s assumed that a combination of parasites, viruses, poor nutrition and pesticides are thought to be behind the widespread death of honeybees in the US, where 40% of colonies are still dying each year (Benjamin). Now, you and I can’t be the only ones who know about this, right? Certainly there are other people in much more influential positions doing something about this problem. That’s true, in both public and private sectors. For example, in 2013, the Obama administration implemented a Pollinator Protection Research Plan, which tasked all government agencies with reviewing ways to protect birds, bats, butterflies, and bees (Shilton). It used the gathered information to then implement the Pollinator Protection Plan in 2016. Though the plan, which calls for increasing habitat and decreasing pesticide use is still new, it’s been heralded as an important first step towards helping vulnerable pollinator populations (Shilton). Another, more recent example is researcher Eijiro Myiako. Myiako, who works at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, thinks there may be a more direct fix where technology is involved. He and his colleagues have developed an insect-sized drone capable of artificially pollinating flowering plants. The drone was tested on a wild lily and seemingly did that same thing a pollinator does. When it bumped into the male part of the flower, it picked up pollen and then transferred that pollen to the female part of another flower. Give it a couple more years and this kind of technology could do a lot for us but the further advancement of this kind of technology means that we’re giving up on the idea of having the bees stick around to do the job they’re genetically designed to do which I don’t think is a smart move. Technology is great and it’s come a long way but trying to get technology to match the complexity of nature is a hard task to do. There are more than 25,000 species of bees in the world and around 4,000 just in the U.S., each of which has evolved to pollinate a particular plant or plants. Bumble bees are great at pollinating tomatoes. Honeybees are great pollinators for blueberries. And alfalfa leafcutter bees are great pollinators for, well, alfalfa. We can’t replace special pollination job that every particular bee does and we shouldn’t want to. Just like every other species on this planet, even humans, they have a role to play and it’s always better to have the original actor play the role than to have to do a whole recast. Even if you’re not techno savvy, there are still small ways in which each of us can help the survival of bees. You could start by destroying your lawn. Yes, that precious lawn of yours with perfectly cut blades of grass that you bought a whole new lawn mower to maintain, has to go. Yards covered with pristine green grass are really harmful for the living conditions of wild bees. They want to live among wild plants with lots of flowers, so a well-manicured lawn is like a barren, dry desert to them but if you’re too attached to your lawn to let wild plants take over entirely, just try simply putting in a few native flowers in some spots. Bees are disappearing but they don’t have to go extinct. Taking a few small steps like planting a couple of flowers in your backyard can not only help you be the envy of your neighborhood block and can also help sustain an important friend of our ecosystem. It’s a win-win situation. The only way you could possibly lose is by choosing not to do anything at all but why would you want to do that. Our lives depend on theirs after all. As I exit the stockroom, I nearly collide with Joe on his way to break. “Have a good rest of your day, Julia.” He tips an imaginary hat to me and continues to the back. I laugh at his cheesy sense of humor and continue to the front of the store to the register closest to the door. As I’m punching out, I see Jenna, closely examining the mountainous pile of apples. I watch her pick up different ones and inspect them for a few minutes before I call out to her. “Jenna, you can relax now. They’re not going anywhere!” she jumps at my voice, like she’s been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. She laughs it off and shrugs her shoulders. We both know that my words mean nothing, I’ll come back in tomorrow morning and she’ll be doing the same thing. She guards those apples like her life depends on it now, the same she guards the bees that come to her garden. I walk out the doors onto the sidewalk and see a larger than normal bee buzzing around the flower pots by the shopping carts. A couple years ago, I would’ve ducked for cover from that bee but seeing it now if like a relief. A couple of months ago, we were close to losing them all completely and we were already starting to see a tremendous impact but then some mayor from somewhere in California started this whole bee campaign that actually started really helping things. You just signed your name and got sent a variety of complimentary flower and vegetable packets. At first it seemed kind of laughable, I didn’t think it was going to really take but let me tell you, all it took was for people to start losing access to their precious apples and suddenly everyone had a garden taking over both their front and back yards. Pesticides were replaced with more natural alternatives and just really watchful neighbors and the bees started slowly but surely coming back. No one made a big deal when they flew too close to your head anymore because it was much better to know that they were there than to wonder where they had gone. Rather have them by your head than dead in the grass somewhere. I smiled to myself, and maybe a little to the bee, and continued to my car. Although I had already said a small morning prayer earlier today, I said another one, just for the bee.


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