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The Future of Food Starts with Bees

  • Written by Kristen Hamilton

Dave Hunter, Founder/Owner of Crown Bees in Woodinville, is excited.  He’s excited about bees and the new nationwide research program that he and his small staff of seven have launched to find, protect, and increase the native hole-nesting bee population across the U.S.

Hunter’s interest in bees happened by chance over 20 years ago when his wife saw a friend’s apple tree was producing twice as much fruit as their apple tree.  After his wife had a conversation with her friend, they discovered the culprit to be bees.  Not just any bee but native mason bees that are non-aggressive, hive-less solitary bees that are super pollinators. 

MASON HEATHER 1452 no marksMason bee on flower (Courtesy photo)As he described it to me, “Mason bees are different than honey bees.  When they pollinate, they do a belly flop into the flower, grab the pollen, and spread the pollen on their way to the next flower.”  That process means the mason bees have the pollination ability of 100 honeybees; therefore more food will grow. 

So following a fateful layoff about 10 years ago, Hunter took his project management experience and severance pay and started Crown Bees.  It wasn’t just about bees; it was about “inventing products that solve problems.” 
Over the course of an hour, I learned more about bees than I had learned in my prior 50 years from Hunter and his marketing expert, Demarus Sandlin.

Sandlin has a degree in Environmental Studies and develops the education content for Crown Bees.  It is clear that they are interested in educating consumers and advocating the importance of bees to the environment and the future of food production.

Crown Bees produce and sell products that will help your crops, garden, and trees grow.  “We are a food company masquerading as a bee company,” said Hunter. 

Products include healthy mason and leafcutter bee cocoons, kits and nesting materials, accessories to raise solitary bees, and all the written reference materials to help you succeed including the Native Bee Guide produced by Sandlin.

They sell products directly to the public at their Woodinville location and online but most of their products are sold at garden shops, farms, orchards, and nurseries.  Crown Bees has a nationwide presence in these types of stores although they greatly value their local partnerships with businesses like Molbak’s Garden + Home, Swansons Nursery, 21 Acres, KIS (Keep It Simple) Farms, Ox Bow Farms, and Briotech.

Over the past 10 years, Hunter asked a lot of questions about bees to national native bee researchers, their habitats, their patterns, and numerous other things.  He said he heard a lot of “we don’t know.”  That is when he decided that the next step had to be getting answers to his questions. That is why he and his team launched The Native Bee Network.  Research was needed and Crown Bees is taking the lead.  Hunter said “We are leading the charge but we are not doing it alone.”

NBN NEST 1260Native Bee Network Nest (Courtesy photo)The Native Bee Network is a unique national program that provides the education and tools to find, protect and increase populations of native hole-nesting bees in backyards, farms and orchards across the U.S.  When describing the program, Hunter says, “It has to be ethical.  We want to work with the bees.”

This long-term program plans to locate and identify hole-nesting native bees, partner with researchers, raise them, and ultimately place them into our agricultural system. The goal is to find the majority of the hole-nesting species of our roughly 4,000 native bee species in North America.

Groups and individuals are placing bee houses in backyards, fields and right of ways across the US, using a unique nest identifier which adds them to a nationwide database and bee map using a custom web application.  The database will be available to everyone.  Hunter added, “This is our gift to science.”

The Native Bee Network was recently selected by the philanthropic fundraising organization, Projects For Good.  Hunter explained they are working with Projects for Good to fund the first 500 BeeHuts and to hire a temporary Bee Ambassador for the project. You can help the cause by visiting https://projectsforgood.com/projects/509/story.

Hunter concluded by saying “We want to find out what bees are where with the end game being increased food for North America.”

Crown Bees is located at 13410 NE 177th Place in Woodinville.  For more information visit https://crownbees.com.

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