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As the honeybee population in the U.S. continues its three-decade-long decline, Ford employee Mary Mason has taken up the task of caring for tens of thousands of bees right outside the Rouge.
That’s right, the Rouge, home to thousands of factory workers, is also home to 80,000 honeybees, thanks to Mason and the company’s wildlife habitat strategy, which in the last decade and a half has brought nature back to a once gray and black facility.
It all started in the early 2000s as part of Ford’s environmental initiative – the Heritage 2000 program. An architect and sustainability designer was brought in to help “green” parts of the Rouge facility, and the entire complex was given a makeover.
The company brought crabapple trees to the site and someone came up with the idea of honeybees, noting their decline.
The orchard at Ford Rouge is now home to 80,000 honeybees. Mason, a Ford safety investigation engineer, brought in some of her own bees, and has served as a volunteer caring for the Rouge bees for nearly five years.
“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.”
According to government figures, honeybees have been on the decline for more than three decades in the United States. Colony collapse disorder, parasites, pests, pathogens, poor nutrition and pesticides are thought to be the causes. This could have a big impact on crops.
“We have about a 60 percent to 70 percent die-off rate in Michigan,” says Mason, “primarily due to pesticides and pollutants. Unfortunately, when you spray for pesticides, the chemicals can’t distinguish between nuisance pests, like mosquitos, and beneficial honeybees.”
The United States Department of Agriculture says healthy honeybee colonies are critical for meeting the demands of food production. The agency’s agricultural research service suggests pollination by managed honeybee colonies adds at least $15 billion to the value of U.S. agriculture annually by increasing yields and providing superior quality harvests. Commercial production of crops – like almonds and other tree nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables – depends on pollination by honeybees.
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.
“They’re really unselfish,” says 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.”