Honeybees have been on the decline in the United States for more than three decades from colony collapse disorder, parasites, pests, pathogens, poor nutrition and pesticides, but two beehives installed at Ford Rouge Plant are helping a honeybee population of 80,000 survive. The honeybees are part of the Rouge wildlife habitat strategy and the claimed greening of the facility. Mary Mason cares for the honeybees on the grounds outside the sprawling Ford Rouge Complex.
Ford said it all started in the early this century as part of an environmental initiative called the Heritage 2000 program. An architect and sustainability designer were brought in to help “green” parts of the Rouge facility. The entire complex was given a makeover. The company platted crab-apple trees at the site and someone – lost in the mists of time – came up with the idea of honeybees, noting their decline.
“Honeybees are relatively easy to manage, so they were a perfect fit. We installed the hives in 2003, and even distributed the honey to company board members for the first few years,” Gaudette said.
Mary Mason, a Ford safety investigation engineer, brought in some of her own bees, and has served as a volunteer caring for the Rouge honeybees for three years. Mason cares for the bees as if they were her pets. She checks in on them during lunch breaks and on the weekends, to make sure they’re active and moving in and out of the hives.
“I think it’s wonderful Ford is so environmentally connected, and that officials are interested in how the company affects its community,” she says. “I just love that they’re letting me keep the bees here. It’s important they’re protected,” said Mason. “We have about a 60% to 70% die-off rate in Michigan,” said Mason, “primarily due to pesticides and pollutants. Unfortunately, when you spray for pesticides, the chemicals can’t distinguish between nuisance pests, like mosquitoes, and beneficial honeybees.”
The United States Department of Agriculture says healthy colonies of honeybees are critical for meeting the demands of food production. The agency says pollination by managed honeybee colonies adds at least $15 billion to the value of U.S. agriculture annually by increasing yields and providing superior harvests. Commercial production of crops – like almonds and other tree nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables – depends on pollination by honeybees.
“They’re really unselfish,” said Mason. “They do everything to preserve the hive, sacrificing themselves to make sure their hive continues for the next generation of bees. I think it’s just a beautiful thing.”
There are only three types of honeybees in the hive – the queen, workers and drones. The queen mates for one week, then stays in the hive the rest of her life, laying up to 1,500 eggs a day, up to 1 million in her lifetime, typically five to seven years. The drones’ only function is to mate with the queen, after which they die.
“Worker bees have a very short life span, because they work themselves to death to provide for the hive,” said Mason. “They go from one flower to the next, exhausting themselves. One bee may visit 2,000 flowers per day.”
Mason said she couldn’t have picked a better place than the Rouge Plant to house her bees. Their hives are part of the Rouge Plant tour, so every day kids are being taught about the significance of bees.
Aside from the bees at the Rouge plant, Ford rescued tens of thousands of other honeybees this summer. Officials at the Ohio Assembly Plant in Avon Lake called in a beekeeper to remove about 10,000 bees. At the old St. Thomas Assembly Plant in Canada, thousands more were rescued.
“Bees are important for the crops, they’re important for nature,” said Mason. “They are crying out for help, and it’s up to us to help them and help the environment. It’s critical.”