In honor of the hardworking pollinators that help our most nutritious foods grow and fruit, this Thanksgiving, why not make a vase of flowers the table centerpiece rather than a turkey? To us, flowers represent beauty, celebration, or sympathy in times of grief, but to pollinators, they represent a feast of pollen and nectar.
One in every three bites of food we eat is courtesy of insect pollination. This includes not only tasty things like chocolate, pumpkins and cranberries, but also foods that provide us with a major proportion of essential micronutrients like vitamins A & C, iron, zinc, folate, amino acids and antioxidants. Even the alfalfa and clover that cows eat to produce milk—from which we make cheese, butter and whipped cream—depend on pollinators.
America’s Thanksgiving tradition commemorates a feast in 1621 shared by the Wampanoag Tribe and the Pilgrims. The pilgrims, religious separatists from England, spent a grueling winter off-shore aboard the Mayflower, a venture that claimed the lives of about half of the passengers. Momentarily pausing hostility between the indigenous people and the European colonists, Native Americans offered the English colonists much welcomed hospitality, honoring their tradition of celebrating the fall harvest.
There are about 3,600 species of native wild bees in the United States, but their numbers are declining due to habitat loss, pesticide exposure, poor nutrition, climate change and diseases. Roughly a quarter of North America’s bumble bee species are in decline. Indeed, the previously widespread rusty patched bumble bee was added to the Endangered Species List in 2017.
When we take care of pollinators, we take care of so much more. By planting a diversity of plants that were here long before the colonists, and by avoiding insecticides, fungicides and herbicides, not only do we ensure food supplies for us and wildlife, we also encourage beneficial insects that prey on crop pests. All of the fragrant, colorful flowers aren’t so bad either.
Happy Thanksgiving to pollinators and people!
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