We’re told that we have five primary sense; our sense of Sight, Smell, Sound, Taste, and Touch. But how often do we use these senses to really appreciate the world around us? This is as question Holly Schmidt asked our class on Tuesday, September 25th. Schmidt, an educator turned artist from Vancouver, took our class on an art walk through University of Guelph’s most beautiful gallery, the Arboretum.
As we walk, Holly pauses off the side of the road for a moment to give us an autobiography about herself and some of the work that she has pursued. The continues to talk about how she uses an evidence-based method of developing her art; similar to our very own scientific method. Holly mentions how art and science are intertwined, even to the point of both disciplines sharing similar equipment. She wraps up our lecture, and we collectively make our way to the first art installation, the forest.
Holly leads through a beautiful entrance but gives us one important instruction: be quiet and listen to the sounds of nature. We do just that, attentively and quietly our class walks into a small clearing within the trees.
She introduces our first task, to create a legend of sounds and associate them with a small scripture on our paper, then listen to said sounds inside the forest, and scribe the music with our new notations. And for a moment, all was silent…or was it? The wind blowing, twigs snapping, birds chirping, all these sounds continued to echo through the forest. The exercise was a reminder that no matter if we stop, the world around will continue turning.
We packed our belongings and made our way to a beautiful and rich flower garden. As soon as we walked through the gates you can smell the amazing blend of different flowers and trees. The scents were accompanied by the sweet smell of the rain that had come down earlier.
Holly begins to explain to our group that we have a problem in the English language, we lack a variety of verbs to describe smells, and therefore we consequently used bias words with a positive or negative connotation as replacements. She tells us of an artist from Europe who avoids this by creating her own words and associating them with smells. And so, began our next activity, we were told to walk around the flower garden and do our best to identify smells and describe them with new made-up words. As I walked around and tried my best to take in the aroma of the garden, I realized that you can’t fully appreciate nature from a distance, you need to up close and appreciate with all your senses…(well maybe not taste).
Lastly, Holly had us find something small in the garden, and sketch it into our notes. She gave us one guideline: Focus on the object and pay attention to every groove and detail. And off we went sketching away.
We all learned one thing on this day: Nature is truly a work of art, but it offers us more than just a sight to take it. It is peaceful and therapeutic, and we must make more of an effort to appreciate all it has to offer. And as I write this outside on a picnic bench, I can honestly say, it is well worth it.
On Tuesday, September 25th, our Outdoor class took a break from pulling weeds and petting bees to take some time to reflect on the environment around us, that allows us to have these amazing experiences. Holly Schmidt, a visiting artist from Vancouver, started our sensory walk by going through the Arboretum, before heading deeper into the forest to a more secluded area. Our first activity was in a small clearing, where she asked us to create a graphic score of all the sounds we could hear. Once we had all gone mute, it became clear that no space is ever completely silent. We listened attentively, straining for sounds which we could represent visually, like music notes. The wind, raindrops falling from leaves, crickets, and even people coughing became apparent. Holly helped us realize that, as humans, we take up a significant amount of physical and auditory space – even when we are striving not to. No matter what, we have a presence. From our breathing to the crunching of twigs beneath our feet, we can never truly get away from the sound of ourselves.
Appreciating noise that is not from a human source and finding a new kind of silence, true silence, is something Holly emphasized. After some time, we were finally quiet enough to “hear [the] conversations of the forest” (Schmidt). Through this auditory sensory activity, we learned about the art of recording ambient sounds and deducing how certain spaces have changed. For example, a recording of a certain part of a forest can reveal how a certain species of birds are no longer prevalent there. Overall, what really made an impression on me, was that even when we consciously minimize our effect on the world around us, we still have an impact.
For our next activity, despite the rain, we walked to a flower garden to learn how to enhance our next sense: smell. My nose was stuffed up due to an unfriendly virus, so my sense of smell was somewhat hindered. Even in spite of that, I was able to detect an overwhelming aroma of lavender, rich soil, and rain. Here, Holly shared an interesting insight: We often describe smell in a very judgemental manner. “This smells lovely” or “this stinks”. I also realized that we tend to describe it in terms of taste, such as “sweet” or “delicious”. We were then tasked with venturing around and taking care to smell, with our noses at different heights above the ground to see how the scents differ. In this way, we were able to truly appreciate different aromas of nature without assigning our own prejudices. After a brief time, Holly brought us back together and we brainstormed different ‘made-up’ words that could describe supposedly “indescribable” smells.
Finally, in our last few minutes, Holly had us choose something nearby to sketch. Rather than attempting to copy it perfectly, we were asked to keep our eyes on the object, taking in all of the grooves, divots, and curves, simply letting our hand be guided by exactly what we see without glancing down at the page. We then came back together and shared some of our drawings, and I have concluded that some of my classmates are destined to be artists.
These activities went hand in hand with the readings we did previously, “Culture of Nature” by Alexander Wilson. Alexander Wilson describes how nature can be viewed as something pure and therapeutic and as humans we should exist as one with it, not as two separate entities. It can be a welcome escape from our everyday struggles, yet as a society, we do not often take the time to truly appreciate nature around us. As the saying goes, we do not “stop to smell the roses”, rather than just rush by them. I discovered that I am also often guilty of this. However, with a new appreciation of my surroundings, I have a more rewarding, enjoyable way of looking at nature, which we are always a part of.
What is the big take away? The art of taking notice never gets old.
On Tuesday September 18th, the Outdoor School class was given the privilege of being able to visit and explore the University of Guelph Honey Bee Research Center. We were exposed to many different practices that are used to keep bees, as well as the difficulties Honey Bees in Canada, and around the world, have faced in the past decade. This trip gave myself and many others insight into the environmental impacts bees have on the world we live in, and how we as people may be endangering this delicate ecosystem.
To begin our trip, we embarked on a 25 minute walk through the beautiful University of Guelph Arboretum. Being immersed in nature was a nice way to begin our afternoon at the apiary. Once we arrived, Diane sat us down under some trees and began to tell us about her experiences with recreational beekeeping. She recounted some of her personal stories of bee keeping with her father, and then proceeded to share some valuable information about bees and their way of life. We learned about the different roles that each bee has, and that without these specific roles, the kingdom would not survive.
After our talk with Diane, we headed out back to visit the apiary, and met with two women who work and volunteer there. They got us all suited up in protective gear that would function to protect us from the potential risks of being stung. They proceeded to expand on some information Diane had shared with us previously, and demonstrated how to prepare a smoker and open up a hive. It was interesting to learn about the role of the smoker in preparing a hive to be opened. We learned that one of the main reasons a smoker is used when harvesting honey is to interfere with the bees’ lines of communication. We were told that smoking bee colonies makes bees go into a survival mode, making whoever is harvesting the honey less of a concern to them. When bees smell smoke, it makes them think their hive is going to catch on fire, so their natural instincts tell them to try and save as much honey as they can.
The hive was then opened and frames were removed to show us the inner workings of a colony. It was unbelievable to see the amount of bees that were clustered on one single frame. We were told that some of their hives contained over 80,000 bees alone! Before allowing us to touch the bees, we were told that we needed to locate the queen. When asked why, it was explained that if the queen had not been located, there would be a possibility that we may accidentally injure her when we touched the bees. If we ended up harming the queen, the hive would be in danger of collapsing.
This lead me to reflect on the delicacy of a Honey Bee hive. The hive relies on one single bee, the queen, who is the one that keeps everything going. Without her, there would be no new bees and the hive would not be able to grow and thrive. However, the queen could not survive without the help of help of her 20,000-80,000 female worker bees. Much like the queen, these worker bees are an essential part of the hive. They forage for pollen, tend to queens and drones, protect the nest and perform other tasks in order to ensure the survival of the hive.
For such small delicate creatures, Honey Bees are resilient. However, resiliency has a threshold.
“Colony collapse disorder is the bill we are getting for all we have done to the bees. It’s just a name that was given to a phenomenon that a hive is found empty. Food is there, honey is there, but the bees are gone” (Gunther Hauk, Queen of the Sun,2011). Beekeepers across the United States lost over 44 percent of their Honey Bee colonies during the year spanning April 2015 to April 2016, according to the Bee Informed Partnership’s tenth annual survey (Thomson, 2016). Rates of both winter loss, summer loss, and total annual losses worsened significantly compared to previous years.
After watching the film “Queen of the Sun: What are the Bees Telling Us?” directed by Taggart Siegel, my eyes were opened to the need for change regarding the bee industry. “We are in such a habit of exploiting, of using nature for our own ends, and the Honey Bees right now are saying “If you continue your ways, I’m withdrawing””(Queen of the Sun, 2011). We choose to use harmful pesticides, such as neonicotinoids, in order to help increase our food production, however, in the process we are destroying our only chance at a sustainable future. As far as important species go, Honey Bees are at the top of the list. They are crucial pollinators, pollinating around 70% of the crop species that feed 90% of the world. (BBC-What Would Happen if Bees Were Extinct, 2014). If we don’t protect the bees, we aren’t protecting ourselves.
Holding baby bees
Local Guelph honey for sale
So what are we doing to help the bees? The real answer is not enough. However, countless individuals around the world are petitioning to make recreational beekeeping legal. Bringing bees to urban areas will help to pollinate the cities as well as bring more of these crucial creatures to the area. A group of people in New York City petitioned to help legalize beekeeping in New York State by explaining that, “The ban (on beekeeping) is outdated and detrimental to the health and well being of our urban environment and our community.” (Jacquie Berger, Queen of the Sun, 2011). Zan Yassin, a third generation beekeeper in New York explains that all she’s really trying to do is “do something simple for nature”. It is upsetting to learn about all the negative issues regarding the bees, however, due to the out pouring of support, I am hopeful for the future of their survival. Because after all, if we don’t protect the bees, are we really protecting ourselves?
Frame from one of the hives.
Inspecting the frame for the Queen
We got to taste honey straight off the frame!
Queen of the Sun. Dir. Taggart Siegel. Collective Eye Films, 2011. Kanopy. Web. 25 Sep. 2018.
Thomson, Jason. “Bees Are in Trouble. What’s Being Done to Save Them?” The Christian Science Monitor, 11 May 2016, www.csmonitor.com/Science/2016/0511/Bees-are-in-trouble.-What-s-being-done-to-save-them.
“What Would Happen If Bees Went Extinct?” BBC News, BBC, 4 May 2014, www.bbc.com/future/story/20140502-what-if-bees-went-extinct.
In 2006, the term ‘colony collapse’ disorder was created in the United States to describe the mass disappearance of honey bees from their hives. Throughout history, it has not been unheard of for bee disappearances to occur occasionally, so why the sudden buzz? The answer lies in the alarming fact that the bees began disappearing in a magnitude yet unseen and not only contained to North America but echoed throughout the world. The documentary, “Queen of the Sun: What are the bees telling us?”, brings to light the struggle of biodynamic beekeepers, farmers, and scientists worldwide in tackling the threats not only to the honey bees but, by extension, to ourselves.
Human beings have coexisted with bees for nearly 10,000 years. As of today, the United States Department of Agriculture states that almost one-third of the food we eat is pollinated mainly by honey bees. As Ian Davies, a rooftop beekeeper situated in London, says in the film, “If we don’t protect them, then we’re not protecting ourselves.”
One of the main threats the film focuses on is the mechanization that has happened to the practice of beekeeping in order to increase profits, and subsequently its negative effects on the health of the bee population. Industrialized farming driving monoculture and pesticide use is explored, highlighting the necessitation of beekeepers to now provide pollination services. Eric Olson, a migratory beekeeper, explains that the business involves practices that are not beneficial to the bees but are necessary in order to stay in business. Due to monoculture farming in many places not providing bees an environment where they can nourish themselves, bees are flown worldwide every year to aid in pollination. In California alone, nearly 2 million bees are flown in annually to pollinate orchard fields. Not only does this introduce new diseases to the native colonies, the process of transporting the bees is highly stressful and makes them more susceptible to illness and even death as they cannot forage when they are on the road (Simone-Finstrom et al., 2016).
Before being transported, the bees are fed with high-fructose corn syrup in an attempt to strengthen them. Roy Arbon, an organic beekeeper, explains that in the sugar oxytetracycline or tetramycin is used in attempts to control disease. When humans consume the honey that is produced by those bees, they too consume the antibiotics and develop resistance to them. This scene caused me to think of the organic farm we visited at the beginning of the course and how important of a role every aspect of food production plays. The abundance of pesticides and antibiotics in today’s farming practices does not come without costly downsides to our health as well. When one aspect of the environment suffers- even something as seemingly small as a honeybee- the rest follows. Our interconnection and dependance on the environment is the reason organic farmers such as Martha are so important.
In 1923, the scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner predicted that industrialization and the mechanization of beekeeping will eventually destroy the bees. Nearly a century later, his predictions are coming to fruition and we need to face head-on the harsh reality that our exploitation of nature for our own means is causing the loss of a species necessary to our survival. Rather than ignore the alarm the bees are sounding, in the words of Steiner, “Everybody should be interested in beekeeping. Our lives depend on it.”
Simone-Finstrom et al. (2011). Migratory management and environmental conditions affect lifespan and oxidative stress in honey bees. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/srep32023
This week, we walked through the Arboretum in the afternoon and arrived at the University of Guelph’s Honeybee Research Centre. It was lovely sunny weather, and we went into the relatively unpaved forest, weaving under a metal gate and over a highway to reach our destination.
Before we were introduced to the beekeepers of the Research Centre, Professor Borsato introduced the social hierarchy of bees and basic bee biology to us, drawing upon her experience as an amateur beekeeper. We passed around her beekeeping equipment to examine, such as her bee smoker, an old honeycomb super, and a queen cage (used for transporting queen bees through the mail).
After the mini-lecture, we put on hats and beekeeping veils, and the beekeepers demonstrated the use of a bee smoker and talked about the history of their beehives and operation.
The beekeepers took out the honey supers (the frames inside a beehive) and helped us look for the queen, dotted with a pink sticker, and passed around juvenile honeybees (they couldn’t fly yet) and some bee drones (they can’t sting) for us to hold gently in our hand and examine more closely.
We also took turns “petting” the bees, placing a hand gently onto the slow moving mass. They were fluffier and softer than I expected!
After that thrilling experience, we had a chance to dip into the bees’ supply of honey, tasting honey straight from the honeycomb and made from local wildflowers. I personally wasn’t a honey lover, but even I could appreciate the freshness and sweetness of the local honey.
To end the lesson, we sat beneath the trees and had a picnic with Professor Borsato’s own honey, bread and butter while discussing what we learned during this lesson, and enjoyed the last of the afternoon.
After this experience, I went home and watched Queen of the Sun: What are the bees telling us?, a documentary that focuses on colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon where the majority of worker bees in a hive flee the colony, abandoning the queen and their honey.
The film interviews various people of interest, spanning 3 countries and several continents, such as nature authors, professional and amateur beekeepers, bee historians, scientists and more, covering diverse aspects of beekeeping. Besides introducing the viewer to the history of bees, from the spiritual reverence for honey to the industrialisation of beekeeping, and the rise of domestic beekeeping in the form of rooftop and backyard beekeeping in urban cities.
The film also explored possible causes for bee colony collapse, such as the migratory beekeeping practices in order to pollinate California’s almond farms, monoculture, genetic modification, pesticides, chemicals used to alleviate bee diseases etc.
Queen of the Sun is a good introductory film towards the issues that bees face in the present, touching upon many facets and potential causes of colony collapse order, and is a must-watch for anyone interested about this keystone species.
Wow, what an experience! I personally have never been to anywhere to like this before but it was definitely a time in my life I will remember for ever. Tuesday September 11th, 2018 was our very first class together and I had to opportunity to meet people from all over the world. I was so excited to start this class with them because I knew I would be learning so much, not only from the places we are going to but also hearing different perspectives and stories from the other students in our class.
For our first class, we headed over to a small organic farm right outside campus. I didn’t know what to expect at first but as soon as we got there you could just tell how much work is put into this beautiful place. Martha, the owner of the farm, introduced herself and gave us a tour of the farm. She explained a little about the business side of things as well, which I thought to be very interesting. She explained the struggles she had been having with the University and how she handles it.
It was so amazing to see all the natural rich colour from this organic farm. I find it amazing how it is completely natural and there is no pesticides being used, as well as synthetically compounded fertilizers, livestock feed additives and growth regulator. Martha explained how important it is to take in this experience and although it may be hard work, the end result is always worth it. She also told us how this farm came to be and all the hard work her and her co-workers had put into it over the past 10 years. The organic farm is a non-profit business were their goal is to introduce people to organic farming and hopefully get them hooked on the delicious tasting foods that are coming from it.
I really like Martha’s approach with regards to not using any harmful chemicals to the environment and also trying not to put money into the farm. By doing this she is saving the environment in her own way and I really appreciate that. “In Canada, 100 million kilograms of pesticides were sold in 2014 – up nearly 15 percent from five years earlier.” (Livesey, 2017) After knowing this information it really makes me think about what I am putting into my body. Martha made me realize how important it is to be aware of what you’re eating so that you live a stronger healthier lifestyle. Using pesticides makes the food last longer and to make it easier to farm or produce food in general. This is why Martha faces a lack of support from the University because they have no interest in using her methods, they seem like they just want to get the job done and not embrace the experience like Martha does.
After hearing from Martha, she put us to work. For the remainder of the class we picked weeds from the garden to make our contribution to the farm. We also had to opportunity to taste the fresh fruits from the farm, and she also encouraged us to attend the farmers market they host on Thursdays. The raspberries were delicious! Overall, I learned a lot about organic farming and the amazing work put into it by many volunteers. Being at the farm gave me an insight of how some of my food is being prepared and taught be to really appreciate what I have and not to take anything for granted. It was an amazing experience that opened the classes eyes to some of the amazing things we get to be apart of in this course!
Reference: Livesey, Bruce. “Big Agro on Campus.” The Walrus, 11 Apr. 2017, thewalrus.ca/big-agro-on-campus/
On Tuesday September 11th, our class headed off campus to a small organic farm where we met Martha, the founder of this beautiful place. She gave us a tour of the grounds and an insight into the enormous amounts of hard work that go into organic farming. Martha explained to us how everything is accounted for in an organic farm, from the soil to the animals that come by for a snack! It is important to understand the cycles and chain reactions that happen within this small environment, as every factor affects the food that is produced.
Martha went on to explain how this farm’s soul purpose is to show people that while organic farming is hard work, the final product is always worth it. Although the farm has always struggled financially, they always value the important work they are doing over any amount of profit. They want to show people that it feels good to eat good, it’s that simple! Martha’s goal for her farm is to do as much as possible to make the least amount of impact on the environment, as she always ensures the land from which she produces her food is being respected. Martha shows so much gratitude for her land and all the plants she works with, and she is so in tune with all the different organisms. She explained how when certain plants aren’t thriving in the system, it is important not to push, and to instead let go and trust that the earth knows what is best for the system at that time.
Unfortunately, Martha has faced an extreme lack of support from the university for years, as the agriculture program has such a large impact in the university’s values. The University of Guelph is partnered with many farming organizations and pesticide companies that help pay for not only the agricultural program, but the institute as a whole as well (Livesey, 2017). Accepting donations and funding from pesticide manufacturers causes a large debate on the safety of the company’s product, as there is often not a full disclosure that the company is funding the research involving the product itself (Livesey, 2017). This corruption in the system causes industry-funded scientists to mandate an incredibly high amount of verification before they will accept something as toxic (Livesey, 2017). This exploitation is a main factor in the lack of support Martha receives for her farm, as she refuses to use any pesticides or toxins in her system.
We all learned a great deal about organic farming, as well as its amazing cycles and products. We finished our tour off by taste testing some of the delicious raspberries right off the bush! We were also accompanied by a dog, Shep, who spends a lot of time helping out on the farm. Before we left, we spent some time getting our hands dirty in the garden while helping to pull some weeds. This was a great way to feel the energy of the farm and to gain even more insight to the amazing efforts that go into organic farming. Overall, I realized that life is a lot like organic farming, you get out of it what you put into it!
Reference: Livesey, Bruce. “Big Agro on Campus.” The Walrus, 11 Apr. 2017, thewalrus.ca/big-agro-on-campus/