The month of September is an annual month of celebration and education of bees run especially by Apiculture New Zealand.
Each year, the annual events' aim is to get all New Zealanders taking action to support and protect bees and bring awareness to the important role that they play in both our kai and environmental ecosystems.
In 2020, during the explore and research phase of the collective Te Mahinga Kai o Tairāwhiti, which is backboned by Healthy Families East Cape, the team connected with local Beekeeper, Bee champion and member of Apiculture New Zealand, Barry Foster.
Meeting Barry and bringing awareness to the importance of bees was a massive highlight of that entire mapping phase of our local food system," says Healthy Families East Cape's Strategic Leadership Rōpū member, Agnes Walker.
The Healthy Families East Cape team vividly remembers the encounters with Barry during the mapping phase of the local food system and the deep discussions around what actions need to be taken to support the health and resilience of our bee populations.
"It's all so intricately connected, whether you're eating the food that is directly pollinated or you're eating something that depends on that pollinator," Agnes said. "It's a domino effect."
The climate crisis has taken a toll on our pollinators, with Ministry of Primary Industries reporting in 2021 the overall annual loss rate of bee colonies over winter to be 13.6%, or about 109,800 colonies.
As part of their endeavour to raise awareness of bees in schools, Barry, along with his colleagues Steve Jackson and John McLean from Apiculture NZ visited schools across the Tairāwhiti region during the month of September.
Our local tamariki were given the chance to meet beekeepers, learn about bees and how a hive works and enjoy some honey tasting.
Healthy Families East Cape brokered a relationship between Barry and Cobham School, ensuring the community and students of Cobham were able to take part in the Bee festivities for the month.
On the 20th of September, Cobham School students were treated to a day of everything Bee-related including honeycomb, beekeeper protective clothing including veils for the tamariki to try on, and also live bees in an observation hive box.
Te Mahinga Kai o Tairāwhiti steering group member and Principal of Cobham School, Gina Lean, was excited to have her tamariki be a part of Bee Awareness Month.
"The collective mahi that is being done in our suburb of Elgin, including the planting of native trees behind our school, the raised awareness of healthier and more people friendly environments and neighbourhoods, have all led to Bee Awareness Month and Barry's visit to our school,
"For the kids to now learn about bees and how they're critically important to our food and lives is such a milestone in their learning journey," says Gina.
Excited tamariki from Cobham School shared the below about their day with Barry:
John McLean, a retired Professor of Entomology, took the tamariki through an engaging lesson around the basic anatomy of bees and insects, with tamariki able to see dead bees, look at them from an anatomical perspective and deepen their understanding of the pollinator.
Healthy Families East Cape Manager, Toni June, welcomed the learning of the importance of honey bees, especially in the building of a local food system that is dependent on our environment.
"Perhaps the greatest win of the day was creating Bee champions in the tamariki, and watching them get excited about understanding the bees anatomy, the different types of bees and their roles, and that they pollinate our plants that end up as food on our tables," said Toni.
"Steve Jackson even held up a branch from an orange tree, and for the tamariki to understand that bees are what help the oranges grow, and what that means for other vegetables and other plants that depend on bees and pollinators."
As an added bonus, Gina Lean has advised that Matua Kahurangi of Cobham School, in being inspired by Bee Awareness Month has utilized word play to articulate the values of the kura.
“Matua Kahurangi worked with the tamariki and came up with some new values for our kura: Bee Wise, Bee Humble, Bee Aroha, Bee Nurture, Bee Attitude, Bee Unique, Bee kind, Bee respectful, Bee the tahi and do the mahi,” says Gina.
“This is a nod to the importance of bees in our ecosystem, and translating that to our school values. We loved everything we learned, and now it’s top of mind every day.”
Barry and the team at Apiculture NZ are encouraging New Zealanders to learn about bees and what we can do to help care for them.
Healthy Families East Cape look forward to continuing our relationship with Barry and further understanding what actions we can take as a region to protect bees, and therefore become more food resilient and food sovereign ourselves.
“It’s about making the public aware of the importance of bees in pollinating all of the food we depend upon in our diets,and for the benefit of the wider environment. For example our native bee species are vital in the pollination of many of our native plants in order for them to set seed.” says Barry.