Next time you drive by the Ford Rouge Complex the sound you hear may not be the buzz of industry, but rather bees. Yes, bees.
Ford employee Mary Mason has been buzzing around and caring for 80,000 honeybees right outside the complex. It’s a part of Ford’s wildlife habitat strategy, which brings a type of balance between the natural and industrial worlds at the factory and, in this case, addresses the decline in the bee population.
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 three years. Every lunch break and weekend, she is out to check on her black and yellow “pets.” It is a must to make sure the bees are moving in their 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.”
There are only three types of bees 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, which is 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,” says Mason. “They go from one flower to the next, exhausting themselves. One bee may visit 2,000 flowers per day.”
The wildlife habitat strategy 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.
Crabapples were added and from there, honeybees entered the conversation.
“We had the crabapple trees and thought when they flowered, the bees could pollinate them,” says Roger Gaudette, director, Dearborn campus transformation. “Bees 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.”
Government figures show that honeybees have been on the decline for more than three decades in the U.S. The population has impacted by colony collapse disorder, parasites, pests, pathogens, poor nutrition and pesticides. The decline could have a big impact on crops, and ultimately prices.
“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.
“I think it’s wonderful Ford is so environmentally connected, and that officials are interested in how the company affects its community. I just love that they’re letting me keep the bees here. It’s important they’re protected,” she says.
The drop in honeybee population hits home harder than most think. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates a healthy bee population can add $15 billion to the value of U.S. agriculture annually. Commercial crops like almonds and other tree nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables depend on pollination by honeybees
Ford has rescued bees at other plants. The Ohio Assembly Plant in Avon Lake called in a beekeeper to remove about 10,000 bees and thousands were rescued at the old St. Thomas Assembly Plant in Canada.
Mason is quite satisfied with her initial bee donation and the area they helped colonize. Their hives are part of the Rouge Plant tour, so every day kids are being taught about the significance of bees. That can only help save the bees.
“Bees are important for the crops, they’re important for nature,” says Mason. “They are crying out for help, and it’s up to us to help them and help the environment. It’s critical.”
– Photos courtesy of Ford