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Author Sarah Kirton
Sarah Kirton
Updated on Dec 31st, 2023
Fact checked by Deborah Leigh

Cascade Girl 2023: Appreciation & Survival of Bees

Sharon Schmidt, the founder and president of Cascade Girl, embodies a lifelong passion for beekeeping rooted in childhood memories and family heritage. With a Masters in Nursing and a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology, Sharon's career spans teaching, extensive work in addiction recovery, and supporting mental health. Her beekeeping practice and research focus on diverse areas, from soil health and ethical beekeeping to mindfulness and regenerative agriculture. Certified as a Master Beekeeper, Sharon drives her work with a commitment to education, sustainable practices, and empowering women in beekeeping. DeliveryRank finds out more.

What inspired your transition from a background in nursing and clinical psychology to beekeeping and advocating for the survival of agricultural pollinators? How has your previous experience influenced your approach to beekeeping and environmental advocacy?

I grew up in a rural area with parents that enjoyed agriculture on a small scale. My father came from a farming family that used the natural methods of the 1800’s.  In the Midwest, we were blessed to have a thick layer of black topsoil and the plants loved it. As a result, the amendments we used were few and totally natural. Therefore I knew it was possible to grow beautiful, edible plants without pesticides. We did some companion planting such as marigolds with tomatoes which worked wonders in terms of keeping tomatoes safe from predators. We often integrated onions for similar reasons and it was only during my teenage years I realized that commercial growers did something different.  

The book, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson came out in 1962 and murmurings about chemicals filtered down to even our little town, making it clear that animals were experiencing the effects of well intentioned meddling in the food chain. Her book, her findings flew in the face of American exceptionalism.  There was plenty to distract us from the obvious changes in the environment; the loss of a President, serious social justice issues and the space program culminating with my friend’s uncle taking the first few steps on the moon.  Who could focus on insects?

Fast forward to my years in nursing school, I observed very little information about environmental toxins or anything other than the most basic information about the effects of foods and nutrition in texts or lectures.  Simultaneously, it seemed that the incidence of cancer was rising but the argument was that this was because of increased case finding.  Piece by piece, information about toxins in the environment stacked up and the association between toxins and human health became a correlation.  

Gradually, Colony Collapse Disorder became a serious concern and even lay people observed fewer insects of all varieties on their windshields at the end of a day.  Something was happening.

Some pesticides were worse than others for insect health.  How much worse?  One has only to listen to the news to hear about the significant decline in our pollinator population and the concerns that food availability will suffer.  

Of the categories of pesticides, the ones that have been most actionable are glyphosate and the Neonicotinoids.  Today, even beekeepers acknowledge that pests, pesticides, pestilence  and poor nutrition are among the most important factors in predicting successful honey bee health or lack thereof.  Presently, serious changes in climate add to the challenges.

Could you elaborate on the importance of ethical beekeeping and its connection to soil health and regenerative agriculture? 

Ethics in beekeeping is not often discussed but should be on the list in any curriculum. The word itself comes from the Greek “ethos” meaning “character”.  Ethics is the study of what is just and unjust and it deserves careful consideration in beekeeping given that we remove bees from their natural environment to serve us by pollinating crops and making honey and hive products.  

Do we consider them sentient beings? Are we putting them in harm’s way by exposing them to crops treated with pesticides?  Do they get safe and varied nutrition in their forage? These are questions that must be asked because by themselves, bees would not choose some of the places they are taken.  Soil Health makes a decided contribution to the presence of forage for bees.  Sadly, much of the topsoil is disappearing due to lack of cover crops, tillage that interrupts the soil’s ability to hold water and many other factors.  

Your organization focuses on educating underserved populations in beekeeping. What unique challenges or opportunities have you encountered in this endeavor, and how does it contribute to your mission of promoting healthy pollinators and landscapes?

Over the last 3 years we focused on Veterans as an underserved population.  Veterans are actually uniquely suited to beekeeping given the “hive mentality” required of troops. They seem to understand the aims and goals of individuals working together to protect home and hearth and help each other in their beekeeping work. 

As a Master Beekeeper certified through the University of Montana, what key insights or lessons have you gained that shape your teaching methods and approach at the Cascade Girl Teaching Apiary? How do you engage participants in learning about beekeeping and its significance?

Participants often come to “look at the scenery“ but then “stay for the ride” which is to say that brief interest often becomes long lasting engagement.  In addition to text and didactic instruction we start with external observation of a hive, encouraging students to look, listen, feel and even smell what is going on in a hive.  

Subsequent to external hive observation we might have students identify the castes of bees coming in and out of the hive, taking note of the time of day, weather and temperatures, their engagement with other bees at the front of the hive and the hive efficiency demonstrated by its general weight.  

We try to teach from the perspective of the bees because the greatest takeaway for a first year student is that you can’t “make” the bees do anything.  You can only help the bees do what THEY want to do.

Your work involves not only practical aspects of beekeeping but also includes mindfulness, honey sensory analysis, and minimizing the effects of pesticides. How do these diverse elements intertwine within your overall mission, and what role do they play in sustaining bee populations and their environments?

We foster appreciation for and survival of food system pollinators.  The common thread is to involve people at many levels through applied science methodology.  Once we engage their interest and students begin to gain some level of mastery they become engaged and interested in how they can help. We have students who have gone on to teach others about pollinators, flowers, honey, forage, soil and beekeeping because they gained a sense of competence and wonder.  Thereafter what happens is just magical!

If you would like to find out more about Cascade Girl, please visit https://www.cascadegirl.org/


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We rank vendors based on rigorous testing and research, but also take into account your feedback and our commercial agreements with providers. This page contains affiliate links.Advertising DisclosureThis is a user-oriented comparison website, and we need to cover hosting and content costs, as well as make a profit. The costs are covered from referral fees from the vendors we feature. Affiliate link compensation does not affect reviews but might affect listicle pages. On these pages, vendors are ranked based on the reviewer’s examination of the service but also taking into account feedback from users and our commercial agreements with service providers. This website tries to cover important meal, coffee and pet food delivery services but we can’t cover all of the solutions that are out there. Information is believed to be accurate as of the date of each article.
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