ORANGE – “Bee-cilitator” and Central Massachusetts beekeeper Mary Canning, just returned from Nepal, one of the regions where she is working on instituting a far-reaching initiative to create more pollination habits and honeybee apiaries as an economic resource for villagers living in poverty.
Ms. Canning, 56, who owns Follow the Honey in Cambridge, lives in Orange and tends to her own apiary on 18 acres that she owns in Warwick, with husband and business partner Ingo Winzer.
After losing her first husband, a physician, to cancer in 2004, the film major, who previously worked at WGBH as research and production support on “Frontline″ and as an associate producer for “Nova,” Ms. Canning said she turned to the bees and adopted a “hakuna matata” lifestyle, a Swahili phrase meaning “no worries,” opening Follow the Honey in 2011.
When she is not selling honey in Boston, Ms. Canning travels the world to help teach those living in poverty about a potential resource they have in abundance that they can turn into “liquid gold.”
Starting with women beekeepers living in South India and now working with African farmers, she teaches them how they, too, can make “honey money.”
People do not realize how labor intensive beekeeping is, Ms. Canning said, and undervalue it, but it takes 1,125 bees and 2 million flowers to make a pound of honey.
“For people who are marginalized, the village can’t grow if the village doesn’t know,” she said. “These populations have no access to current events or news, smartphones or WiFi. The more remote the people are, the more pristine and valuable the honey is, and there is an abundance of it as a potential resource, as long as they have protective gear because African bees are ‘bad a--.’”
On a recent trip to Tanzania following an invitation by the former prime minister, Ms. Canning helped establish apiaries and also a market connection for farmers living in poverty to sell their honey in the U.S., developing a network of 15,000 beekeepers there.
“Usually African ‘do-gooders’ build infrastructure with no market link for them to move what they’ve produced,” she explained. “You can make mango juice, but if you can’t move it beyond the local level, you’re still stagnating in poverty.”
Wearing “Black Hives Matter” T-shirts, Tanzania beekeepers loaded their first shipment of honey to the U.S. in December.
“The T-shirts were humorous and also serious,” she said. “In Africa, if you say ‘Black Lives Matter’ most of them don’t know about the black lives movement. It is a way of amplifying it. For the farmers, water protectors and seed protectors who are part of the green economy, it is a chance to really become a rock and a honey-producing continent. Not everyone can become a coder and work on apps. Africa will end up like India, with a lot of people in the tech field sitting in cubicles doing tech support for outside interests. That is already a saturated market.”
Though making money is a strong economic driver, both here and abroad more effort needs to go into protecting bee populations, she said. People need bees to pollinate crops if they are going to farm, she said, and when farmers become defenders of the environment, bees and water, the reward comes in honey money.
She is encouraging local farmers in the region to create their own apiaries to increase bee populations.
“The old-fashioned way is building up bee operations for more honeybees on other people’s farms,” she said. “The farmers benefit from having pollinators there and honey from hives that they do not have to manage. They can just enjoy knowing they have hives there.”
Ms. Canning is sharing her story at a free educational program sponsored by the North Quabbin Trails Association at 6 p.m. Monday at the Orange Innovation Center, 131 W. Main St., third floor. Kim Skyrm, chief apiary inspector and apiary program coordinator at the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, who has been working with bees, beekeepers and farmers for the past 11 years, is also speaking at the event.
Robert W. Curley Jr., president of the North Quabbin Trails Association, said the organization hopes to not only raise awareness about declining honeybee populations at the event, but also to get more people interested in creating apiaries and pollination habitats in the North Quabbin and Central Massachusetts regions.
The bees in Massachusetts are struggling, Mr. Curley said, with beekeepers losing more than 55 percent of their hives last year.
People can make an immediate and positive difference on a grass-roots level with the honeybee crisis, Mr. Curley said, by calling local legislators and asking that they support state legislation under consideration to protect bees from bee-killing pesticides.
People can also begin to learn how to use their land to create a pollination habitat, arrange to have a specialist help them create apiaries on their lands and educate themselves on honeybees, he said.
Ms. Canning’s talk Monday is free, and no registration is required. For more information, visit
www.followthehoney.com or www.nqta.org.