Happy Wanderer: How South Dakota bees put food on Bay Area plates

Wilhelm Schumacher as pictured in Life Magazine in 1937 edition of Life Magazine


This is a tale about travel, not by humans but by honeybees. It’s a tale of two regions — one in South Dakota and one here in Northern California — and how they’re connected.

My great grandfather was a pioneer and a sodbuster. He brought his family to America in 1898 to escape Russian oppression against the Germans. The homestead he built with his muscle and sweat is still standing today, and my cousins still farm the once-rocky soil that surrounds it.

Eight miles from our homestead is Roscoe, S.D., population 327. It’s a wide spot in the road with a handful of businesses and a popular country cafe called Ricky’s. It’s also home to one of the world’s largest bee producers, Adee Honey Farms.

Adee Honey keeps bees on my cousins’ land. In fact, they keep bees on farms and ranches all over the Dakotas. It’s a sweet deal for everyone, because the bees pollinate the crops, the colonies grow and the farmers get free honey.

In the winter, the bees take a trip. Truckers transport the hives to warm climates such as California, where the bees are used in spring crop pollination. Look around our more rural environs and you may see Adee bee colonies in farm fields and almond tree groves in the greater Bay Area. Bees are some of the hardest-working critters on the planet, and the food we eat depends on them.

I was in Roscoe for July Fourth. My cousin and I checked cattle and fixed fences on what seemed like endless acres of wheat,soy, alfalfa and corn. The green and amber fields rose up to meet a cornflower-blue sky dabbed with purple and streaked with rays of light.

One of many prairie homesteads left to return to the soil.

Among the rows of crops were hundreds — maybe thousands — of birds. Their chatter filled the evening air with a joyful sound, much like the noise in a rain forest before a cloudburst. Families of ducks splashed in the cattle ponds and starlings swooped overhead. On the ground, pheasants pecked gravel off the dirt road to help them digest their dinner. It reminded me of a famous painting my mother has had in the house since I was a baby, called “The Prairie is My Garden.”

We really do have a romance with farms and the food they produce. Here in the Bay Area, we’re especially concerned about what we eat. We buy organic and dine in restaurants where chefs carefully source their meat, fruits and vegetables. And honeybees from Roscoe, S.D., play a part in our crop pollination. They work hard, and we get to enjoy the “fruits” of their labor.


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