It’s All The BUZZ
Bees are important because of the pollinating work they do – for free. Then there’s that yummy honey. No wonder Jimmy Trujillo is a honeybee disciple
He calls himself the oddball beekeeper, but once you get to know Jimmy Trujillo, you find out he’s anything but.
On the surface it might appear strange that someone would voluntarily spend his time with stinging insects, but Trujillo understands the importance of honeybees to Earth’s cycle of life. Without them, a third of the world’s crops, including tomatoes, papayas, mangos and avocados, would not be pollinated and could ultimately disappear.
“There is potential for our food supply to be greatly impacted,” says Trujillo. “This is our chief concern: our ability to produce food at the current levels that we have.”
Bees are the new polar bear, says Trujillo, chairman of Kaua’i Beekeepers Association (KBee), an organization determined to keep the Island’s bee population healthy and to continue to ward off an invasion of harmful pests such as the varroa mite.
“Our environment is in a crisis mode and bees are just one of those species indicating that,” says Trujillo, who is in his fourth year teaching classes in carpentry and interior finishing at Kaua’i Community College.
The rest of the world has already been dealing with distressed honeybee populations enduring colony collapse disorder – where bees suddenly disappear and do not return to their hives – as well as parasites for some time, he says.
It was only within the past few years that Oahu was struck with the varroa mite, followed by an inundation on the Big Island.
“The mite is everywhere,” he says. “That’s why people think it’s going to happen here.”
Traps have been set along Kaua’i’s harbors in an attempt to catch any bees already plagued with the parasite. However, there are a number of deficiencies in the system that allow invasive species like the varroa mite to come through, says Trujillo, who with wife Maria Walker has one child, 10-year-old Kaua’i Pacific School student Manule’a.
To help remedy the possibility of an invasion, KBee plans to gather as many healthy bees as possible and encourage people to practice beekeeping.
“Because if we unfortunately get the varroa mite, bees in boxes will survive better or have a better likelihood of surviving than bees in the natural environment,” he says. “We can help them.”
Another effort to instill beekeeping knowledge within the community is planned at Kaua’i Community College this summer.
“It’s part of the school’s desire to delve into sustainable activities and promote sustainable practices, and recognizes the importance of pollination and the role that bees play in keeping food production up,” says Trujillo, a California native. “It’s also part of the school’s desire to try to develop the industry.”
People can derive a modest income harvesting bees and creating value-added products with honey and wax.
“It’s definitely something we need more of,” he says.
The college even plans to sell the honey produced by the bees on campus to help fund the new program.
One man already on board and excited about the program is Theobroma Farm’s Ken Lindsey.
“I’m going to take the class 100 percent,” he says. “I’m the sustainability guy. I’m trying to do everything I can to go off the grid.”
Bees are an essential part of leading a sustainable lifestyle, and with their population in decline worldwide, it’s all he can do to help, he says.
“People see the value of having bees,” says Trujillo. “They pollinate people’s gardens.”
Several boxes of hives have already been donated to the campus, and Trujillo hopes he will be an educator for the program, which will delve into a variety of entry-level to advanced beekeeping topics.
But propagating honeybees wasn’t always at the forefront of Trujillo’s mind.
Before moving to Kaua’i, Trujillo describes himself as a “migrant worker.”
Moving between Santa Cruz, Lake Tahoe and North Carolina, Trujillo lived with his wife in his 1976 Honda Civic for a number of years.
“We’d load up in the spring and take a long drive out to North Carolina and visit places in the desert, and stop at every red rock canyon formation we could find. It was very enjoyable,” he says.
Eventually, Trujillo says he grew weary of being on the road and took a job as an instructor for Outward Bound at Lake Tahoe.
“That was the big catalyst of change for me having a shift of lifestyle,” he says.
He even planned to earn a college degree in teaching because of the job and to validate his experience as an educator.
“But then I realized it’s not about having a degree and having a job. It’s about having a place to call home,” he says.
Trujillo found his home in Hawaii shortly thereafter in an attempt to launch a transitional housing development for at-risk youths on Kaua’i.
The program fell through, though, in part because Wailua residents were unwilling to harbor such a facility in their backyards.
“We were a little bit disappointed,” Trujillo says.
The beekeeper, who currently has one hive on his property that he plans to donate to the campus, ended up on Oahu instead. But by 1998 he packed his bags for good and moved to Kaua’i. He was able to help initiate a new program for at-risk youths, though it too had an untimely expiration date.
“We had a lot of restrictions the neighbors put on us that ultimately forced the agency to say it can’t make money running the house,” he explains.
Soon, his wife was pregnant and the duo decided to remain on the Garden Isle and raise their child.
“Kaua’i is such a great place to call home,” he says. “Such inspiring people and a place to do good things.”
It also doesn’t hurt that he can surf somewhere that doesn’t require a wet-suit, he adds.
In addition to making a shift from social service work to construction, Trujillo was inspired to take a beekeeping class offered by the county – and it changed his life.
“I’ve always been one of those ‘got to save the world’ people. And bees and food are saving the world,” says Trujillo, who was recruited to help organize meetings about the varroa mite in recent years, which was the beginning of KBee.
A community activist, Trujillo also was heavily involved in protesting the Hawaii Superferry’s arrival.
And he continues his activism with voluntary activities including regularly hosting a radio show on KKCR, assisting Zero Waste Kaua’i and engaging in KCC’s sustainable community.
“I had an upbringing where it was important for us to give back and be of service,” he says. “The best way to express your compassion for humanity is to be of service.”
While his time may be stretched thin, his commitment to preserving a healthy honeybee population never seems to falter.
He is even involved on a governmental level, currently advocating for the reintroduction of a bill that would help monitor the use of pesticides in Hawaii.
“It’s an absolute primary concern,” he says. “You know, when your Department of Transportation a hundred yards away from here comes in just spraying willy-nilly, these guys (bees) are drinking the wildflowers off the side of the road. And they either come back and spoil the honey or they don’t come back.”
Pesticides, treating bees “like cattle” and misunderstanding the insects are just a few of the many ailments causing honeybees to no longer thrive worldwide.
Residents can help by not being afraid of them, he says. Honeybees are not aggressive and will typically leave people alone unless threatened or protecting their hive.
“It’s a stinging insect. They’re classified as a venomous insect, and unfortunately that does create a little bit of a pressure to exterminate them,” he says. “That’s one of things we’d like to avoid – killing bees just because we don’t want to deal with them.”
Trujillo advises contacting local beekeepers to remove and relocate a hive instead.
“When I think about sustainability, I think about what are some of the factors that we can do personally and as a community that create community resiliency,” he says.
Continuing to keep the island’s pollinators healthy is an ongoing challenge and will require further community enlightenment, but Trujillo is undoubtedly up to the task.
Visit kauaibuzz.blogspot.com for more information about ongoing efforts to save the honeybee.