The first time I saw Vanishing of the Bees, I had already dedicated more than 10 years of my life to creating solutions for global warming through rainforest conservation and community tree planting in Costa Rica.

I was lucky to have answered the call of my life’s mission: I evolved from environmental lawyer in Louisiana to the founder Carbon Community Trees, a successful non-profit community reforestation group that regenerates degraded cattle farms with communities in rural areas of Costa Rica.

On an intuitive level, I felt that keeping the rainforest healthy would also serve the bees. We could not just focus on the pesticides and herbicides in a vacuum, or genetic modifications and big factory farming alone. We need to look at the bigger effects and think globally.

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Empowering a Sustainable Planet

We have observed record-high temperatures for the past 12 years as a result of human-hastened climate change. More intense winters also take their toll on natural systems; bigger storms, floods and droughts stress all organisms.

Planting trees with community participation has a measurable, positive impact on lowering global temperatures. Rainwater is recycled into clouds; clouds bring down global temperatures; lower global temperatures take the pressure off species all over the planet, including the sensitive bees.

Finding long term ways to keep biodiverse rainforests standing also keeps the planet cool. Deforestation accounts for more than 20 percent of the carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. When farmers are paid to plant trees and take care of them long term, they do not cut them down like times gone by. Farmers have learned their lessons and are more than willing to work hard to repair their land and build new sustainable income opportunities related to the long-term growth of the trees.

Through our interactive programs, farmers are regularly harvesting renewable resources from the trees and gaining a new awareness of sustainable agro-forestry systems. We plant shelter zones and bridges made of growing trees to connect new forests across fragmented zones where animals, including bees, can build shelter. We empower forest communities, including women.

Tree Hugging and Bee Loving

Forests near the Equator breathe; trees are the lungs of the planet. Trees planted within 10 degrees of the Equator, like in Costa Rica, directly fight global warming and climate change by breathing in more carbon dioxide than anywhere else. These trees exhale oxygen 365 days a year in an atmosphere that is constantly being polluted by excess carbon levels.

In our community reforestation work, we have noticed time after time how docile and sweet the bees are when the trees are about five years old. (Now keep in mind that there are only Africanized bees in Costa Rica). They find comfort in the shade of the trees, which lowers the temperatures and encourages varied secondary vegetation. Once trees and weeds start blooming naturally, we regularly find hives rich in honey, filled with buzzing bees completely disinterested in us. One could even say they were happy. They appear focused and organized in a loose way, buzzing around plenty of different kinds of flowers both high in the canopy and around ground vegetation.

But the bees give off a whole different vibe when we first enter a deforested and degraded farm. They seem crazed and lost, if not desperate. A once abundant and pleasant habitat is now a hot, deforested and eroded hillside with sharp and thick, cattle grasses. These aggressive grasses suffocate and mangle even the strongest pioneering species, preventing anything else to grow. There is nothing blooming and nothing moving with the exception of  “mean,” hungry bees. We find Africanized bee populations in these fields as aggressive as the grasses. Their temperament under the Equatorial sun—with no food, no flowers, no shade and fierce competition—matches the threatening environment.

Sometimes we unwittingly disturb these bees when our workers come swinging with machetes through the grasses for the first time to cut spaces to plant the baby trees. The bees attack the tree planters, stinging them hard! Faces and hands swell up as we slather on baking soda mixed into a cooling paste with water and continue chopping onward.

It is amazing to witness how fast we can convert these uninviting, cattle pastures into gentle, shady and productive food forests for all, especially the bees. No more angry bees attacking us. Hard work and time in nature satisfies everyone, including the bees. Meanwhile, resources become plentiful and workers become empowered. The young trees can only survive if we chop the cattle grasses regularly and trim vegetation so they can receive enough light to grow straight and tall.

The repair work we do requires a sustainable food chain and clean water and air, free of chemicals. Solutions must address rising atmospheric and ocean temperatures. Small scale farmers must be encouraged and empowered with economic support for natural farming practices and local conservation based on digging deep roots in the community.

Sponsor Trees for Future Generations

Big agriculture and first world governments are trying to “feed the world” more unsuccessfully than ever. How long can big agriculture keep hiding? We have to stop supporting commercial farming.

Purchase food from your local small farmers, plant a garden, or work in a community garden. Return to small and sovereign agricultural systems where local families and workers develop long term and balanced relationships with their own land and that of their neighbors. Land is best stewarded by those who work it, love it and depend on its ongoing productivity. Basically, people who have a connection with their land. This is one way we can start to lower carbon footprint.

Farmers who have a vested local interest in the fertility and long term productivity of their soils and the cleanliness of their water make the best conservation stewards. Valuing fruits like cocoa, guanoabana, mangoes, avocados, almonds and cashews from small reforestation farmers is just one way to repay the hard work and environmental services contributed by trees along the Equator in fighting climate change. It also supports the bees who pollinate these fruits and nuts.

With Community Carbon Trees Costa Rica, we aim to give people around the world a trustworthy and effective way to participate in one of the most hopeful solutions available to us in fighting the realm of maladies facing our natural systems today. Planting Equator biodiverse rainforest trees with local farming communities with our proven and certified ACCT model benefits people, animals and the planet.

We can make the changes that alter the course of our current tragic trajectory. NO action is too small; it all adds up. If poisons can add up over time, so can the positive steps we take to counteract them.

Jennifer Leigh Smith grew up on a sustainable farm in Louisiana playing in the woods and bayous, marveling at the Nature all around her.  Jenny, who is also a lawyer, created Community Carbon Trees about 10 years ago. Jenny and her teams have planted more than half a million trees for  145 different projects. Jenny is a Climate Reality Leader trained by Al Gore and currently works with the United Nations and the Global Environment Fund to educate and build community reforestation programs in the emerging world.

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