Awesome. (Can’t embed this one – go look, though, it’s worth it.)
I’ve watched Colony several times now. The synopsis as given by the filmmakers says “Colony documents a time of unprecedented crisis in the world of the honeybee through the eyes of both veteran beekeeper, David Mendes, and Lance and Victor Seppi, two young brothers getting into beekeeping when most are getting out. As Mendes tries to save the nation’s collapsing hives, the Seppi’s try to keep their business alive amidst a collapsing economy.”
This may be the documentary they wanted to make, but it doesn’t actually seem to be the one they did make.
Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is touched on in the film, but as one person (Randy Oliver) puts it, sometimes things like this are cyclical and happen for no particular reason other than it just does. Maybe it is systemic pesticides, maybe it is disease, maybe it is the stress that bees face due to the migratory nature of commercial pollination, maybe it is some combination of these and other factors, or maybe it’s something else altogether, but the film itself takes no particular stance on it, nor does it offer any steps that any individual could take to help. Dave Mendes is featured, talking to groups about pesticides, trying to get people together to do something (in the film, what this may be isn’t entirely clear). Outside of the film, anyone interested in bees at all knows that Mendes is all over the place talking about the need for research and so forth, but this isn’t really touched on in the film. There are some shots of a congressional hearing talking about money for research, but nothing more than one might get in a summary story from CNN or the like.
The rest of the film focuses on the Seppis, a religious family running a commercial operation in California. Most of that focus is not on the effects on CCD on their operation – although there are some points where they do talk about dead hives – but on their negotiating attempts with almond farmers to get a certain price point per hive for almond season. While this holds some interest for people really interested in beekeeping, I imagine this would be fairly boring overall. Quick summary: almond farmers pay migratory beekeepers a price per hive to have bees to pollinate the short flowering season in the fields. With hundreds of thousands of acres of almonds in California, as you might guess this involves a lot of money in the end: with an estimated 1.4 million hives required to pollinate, do the math at even a hundred dollars per hive.
And this business side, I think, is where people like me begin to really think about what’s going on in this film. Before I get into that, though, I have to point out one of the most irritating moments about this film, which involves one of the Seppi sisters talking about the hive. While holding a frame covered with bees, she points out the queen, and says, “They’re somewhat of a matriarchal system.” No, they are a matriarchal system. That’s what it means when the female of the species is in charge, making the decisions, and doing the work. She mentions the queen lays all the eggs and the workers do the nursing, cleaning, and foraging, and says, “But they wouldn’t be there without the male.” After pausing, she gives a little smirk to the camera, and spouts this gem: “You have to remind feminists that.”
OK, which feminists would that be? The ones who never got out of sixth grade biology and know nothing about reproduction? Or the ones uninterested in the submissive woman line touted by certain religious sects – the women (and men!) who happen to be the ones who fight for equal rights for women, and in the past managed to get women not to be counted as chattel, to be able to go to school and receive an education, to be able to work in the same fields as men, and got the right to vote? Those feminists? None of those I know think men are unnecessary or think that complete separatist living is the way to go – those types, like the people who seem to think feminism is a dirty word or that women should just give up their own dreams to accede to what someone else thinks they should do are, fortunately, fringe and rare.
On to the business side. The son who appears to be the primary force of the beekeeping business, says they had 1200 hives (and they want to “bless” farmers with their bees). During the film, the discussions with farmers talk about pricing between $140 and $170 per hive for pollination. For convenience, let’s just say a thousand hives. That’s a lot of money either way. At one point, though, the mother says that the parents are pumping in $20,000 above what the business makes to keep it afloat. Ignoring all the other income (the dad works as a teacher, apparently, and the family may have almonds of their own), as a businessperson myself I have a hard time understanding why it isn’t possible for them to run this business and live on $150,000 a year, even after expenses knock out part of that gross income, especially when they’ve had a few years of managing the business under their belts. Now, I don’t know anything about their accounting or their books or their expenses, but if you’re in the hole that much each year, perhaps you need to take some business classes or exit the field, because something is not right.
In the end, this was a rather unsatisfying documentary, and likely to be not something terribly interesting except to those of us who keep bees (or will be keeping bees).
No, it does not involve brainless or rude clients this time.
The other day, I sat down and watched some documentaries, mostly (of course) related to food and the production of it, one after another.
We Feed the World – Subtitled. About the production o food in various countries and the lives of people who create it.
Our Daily Bread – No dialogue. Images of production and processing of foods from tomatoes to beef, and the people working on the lines or in the fields (or, in some cases, in what amount to hazmat suits, spraying down the vegetables).
The World According to Monsanto – This is, as you would imagine, about Monsanto, the giant conglomerate that controls a lot of how food is produced. The format is a little cheesy, with segments starting off with Google searches, but the information is sound. And a little scary.
The Future of Food – Primarily about GMO (genetically modified) and GE (genetically engineered) foods, and the companies that want to control food from the seed to the supermarket.
Food, Inc. – An overall look at how a handful of major corporations control about 80% of the food that is produced and the conditions under which livestock is raised and processed. There is also a segment on organic foods, and ironically, some of the more well known organic outfits are owned or are subsidiaries of giant multinational companies, something many people don’t know. There is also a segment on Monsanto’s “farm police” who go around to farmers and accuse them of infringing on Monsanto’s patents just because their GE crops cross pollinated into another field. I have to admit, this sort of thing as seen in various of these movies really did make me angry – and it’s why that while I hold a number of stocks in my portfolio, Monsanto will never, ever be one of those.
Watching all of these back to back is enough to get angry and disgusted, but also enough to boost up the motivation to grow some things on your own if at possible. And really, it is possible: you don’t need acres of land like I have (even though it will take years more of work for me to rehab the soil to make it viable, leaving me to grow in frames for the time being), and you don’t even need a huge back yard to do it. From people growing tomatoes in pots on their balconies to people who have built a couple of frames in their tiny back yards, it is possible to supplement or replace the often tasteless things you can buy at the store. And it will be something where you know exactly how it was grown, how it was handled, and who grew it. Because you grew it yourself. Anyone who has plucked a ripe tomato off a plant and eaten it while standing in the sunshine breathing in the green smell of plants and the gritty earth knows the difference. I highly recommend that everyone give it a try.