It’s all about the bees

Washington Conservation District recognizes Pam Arnold & Laurie Schneider for their conservation efforts

The bee is a curious ambassador for the Earth. They are little. They sting. They tiptoe across flowers on insect legs, waving insect antenna, and peering out at the world through kaleidoscoped insect eyes. The females do all of the work, and cast the males out to die at the start of the winter. Yet, bees are inextricably linked to so many other elements of nature and human life. We thank the bees for flowers in the prairie, strawberries, peaches and kidney beans.  This year, Washington Conservation District (WCD) will recognize two local women – Pam Arnold and Laurie Schneider – for their outstanding conservation efforts. Both were inspired, in part, by the bees.

Pam Arnold - smaller
Pam Arnold, a farmer in Scandia, was selected as Washington Conservation District’s 2018 Outstanding Conservationist.

Pam Arnold farms just over 40-acres of land, high above the St. Croix River in Scandia. During the summer, she sells produce, honey, eggs and flowers at the Scandia Farmers’ Market. Five years ago, she reached out to the Conservation District after several of her bee colonies suddenly died. “I wanted the GMO [genetically modified] crops off our fields completely because we had a couple of bee kills traced back to pesticide applications on an adjacent field,” she explains. So, she began working with the Conservation District to transition the fallow corn and soybean fields to hay and pasture, starting with a cover crop to help restore the soil’s health. Arnold later went on to participate in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program and worked with the National Resources Conservation Service to develop a prescribed grazing plan for her land.

Laurie Schneider - photo by Keith Chrysler
Laurie Schneider, Stillwater Twp. resident and co-founder of the Pollinator Friendly Alliance, was chosen as the Washington Conservation District 2018 Community Conservationist. (Photo by Keith Chrysler

Laurie Schneider is a photojournalist from Stillwater Township, whose portrait and documentary projects focus on sustainable farming. Her father founded the national catch-and-release program for trout, and she spent her childhood summers in the river or on the farm. Four years ago, Schneider decided that urgent action was needed to protect bees and other pollinators from harm. Over the course of 70 years, honeybee populations in the U.S. had declined from 4.5 million to only 2 million due to disease, lack of habitat, and pesticide applications. Across the country, beekeepers were losing 30-50% of their hives each year, and many scientists worried that honeybees might disappear for good. Meanwhile, monarch butterflies had reached their lowest population ever that year, and local biologists warned that native Minnesota bees were vanishing as well. In response, Schneider joined forces with colleague Marcie Forsberg to create the Pollinator Friendly Alliance, a grassroots nonprofit organization that works to protect and restore pollinators to improve the environment and sustain our food supply.

Since founding the Pollinator Friendly Alliance, Schneider has worked tirelessly to educate and engage local government partners and the public. The organization has led 38 communities in Minnesota to pass resolutions for the protection of pollinators, helping to increase habitat and reduce pesticide use in parks and along roadways. The Pollinator Friendly Alliance also co-hosts the annual “Best Practices for Pollinator Summit” and organizes dozens of education, outreach, and habitat restoration events each year.

Schneider talks to volunteers at a pollinator habitat planting project in Washington County’s Pine Point Regional Park.

Both Arnold and Schneider have been strong partners for the Washington Conservation District over the past five years. Arnold is an advocate for the St. Croix River and sustainable farming. After planting cover crops in 2013, she hosted a field seminar at her farm, inviting other local producers to come and learn about the practice. This year, she partnered with WCD and the Sustainable Farming Association to plan a Soil Health Café Chat in Marine on St. Croix. During the event, she shared the ups and downs of her farming experience, provided participants with insightful knowledge from her extensive soil health research and trials, and led the group in thoughtful conversation. Schneider has collaborated with Washington Conservation District on public education as well, including speaking at landscaping workshops for local residents, co-planning the annual “Best Practices for Pollinator Summit”, and recruiting volunteers to plant and restore habitat at the Minnesota Correctional Facility (6 acres) and the new “Butterfly Landing” at Pine Point Regional Park (14 acres).

After planting cover crops on her land, Arnold hosted a field seminar so that other local producers could learn more about the practice.

This December, Pam Arnold will be honored as Washington County’s Outstanding Conservationist for 2018 and Laurie Schneider will be recognized as the 2018 Community Conservationist. Both women will be recognized at awards ceremonies during the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (MASWCD) annual conference, December 10-11 in Bloomington. There will be no bees at the luncheons, but thanks to the bees, there will be food.