Educating and Advocating for Healthy Bees in San Diego: Profile of San Diego Beekeeping Society Secretary Camille Smith

San Diego Beekeeping Society

Honeybees intuitively know when it’s time to nurture a new queen. So it’s no surprise that when Camille Smith landed in San Diego, the bees took flight to bring her a hive to nurture in preparation for a role as Secretary and Volunteer, Recruitment and Event Planning Coordinator of the San Diego Beekeeping Society.

Smith has always been interested in bees, but it wasn’t until she moved to California in 2008 that she had the opportunity to keep a hive of her own. That summer, three swarms came through her backyard, enticing her to buy a bee box. The bees didn’t return, but a few months later a friend called saying they had caught a swarm. Her forays as a suburban beekeeper had begun.

Over the next few months, she read a numerous books about beekeeping, watched educational videos on YouTube and joined the San Diego Beekeeping Society. From her mentor and working with society members, she learned hands-on how to properly care for bees to help them thrive.

Her initial interest in working bees quickly transformed into heartfelt passion.

“I love working with the bees,” gushes Smith. “It is so amazing how they work completely collectively with no ego. Everything they do is for the benefit of the entire hive. Even at the end of their lives, they go outside the hive to die so their sisters don’t have to clean out their bodies.”

This level of collective thinking inspires Smith in her role bringing people together at the San Diego Beekeeping Society. She and more than 1,000 volunteer members work to educate people about bees and best practices in responsible beekeeping. They visit schools and participate in community events to increase awareness about pollination and bees among people of all ages.

“The more information people have about bees, the more people are aware to not use pesticides/herbicides in their yards,” explains Smith.

The San Diego Beekeeping Society also works to advocate for legislation that is friendlier to bees and beekeeping. They had success a few years ago working with a coalition to loosen restrictions on urban beekeeping and designate best practices for keeping bees in the City of San Diego. More recently, the San Diego Beekeeping Society has worked with the County of San Diego to update their policies to make it easier for beekeepers to comply with the ordinances.

“We’ve made good progress,” says Smith. “We are proud to be doing our little part to help support the bees, and we have more people every month interested in becoming beekeepers.”

Even with growing efforts to support them, bees are not out of danger. Colonies are still collapsing from the combined effects of exposure to pesticides and herbicides, monoculture that limits access to food sources when crops are not blooming, and weakened immune systems from parasitic mites.

What can you do to learn more and support healthy bees?

Like the community-minded bees, together we can do more. Take it from a resident Queen Bee:

“Bees pollinate one third of the crops we eat,” explains Smith. “There is a direct relationship between the bees, our food, and our health. By voting with our pocket books – choosing to support local and sustainable food production through farmers’ markets and CSA – the food vendors will have to adjust. And the bees will fare better too.”

A Depression-Era Reflection of the San Diego Fishing Industry

In observation of the upcoming Sustainable Seafood Week, how about a little (art) history lesson? This is the story of a recently discovered mural depicting the San Diego fishing industry of the 1930s.

Close-up of "San Diego Industry"

Back in the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a New Deal agency developed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the US Congress to give employment to the many Americans who were unemployed as a result of the Great Depression. Known as one of the largest job-creation programs in the history of the US, the WPA commissioned millions of Americans–many unskilled laborers, but also musicians, writers, actors, directors, and artists–to carry out projects designed to help pull the country out of economic decline. Bridges, parks, and schools were built, and numerous literary, musical, and arts projects were developed.

As part of the WPA, the Federal Art Project (FAP) employed hundreds of artists who created in total more than 100,000 paintings and murals, as well as more than 18,000 sculptures. You may have heard of some of the artists that were employed by this project: Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Stuart Davis, and Jackson Pollock, to name just a few. And you may have seen some of the great murals that have resulted from these WPA efforts, as many have been preserved in post offices, courthouses, and schools across the nation. Typically, the murals tell us a great deal about society during the Great Depression, because Social Realism was the popular style at the time. Depicted are everyday scenes of the working class and the poor as critical commentaries about the institutions that perpetuate their plights.

Many FAP projects were commissioned right here in San Diego, and some excellent murals have been preserved throughout the county, such as the “Progress of Man” at the Balboa Park Club, “The Transportation of the Mail” at the downtown post office, and the “Scenic View of the Village” at the La Jolla Post Office.

Several murals were also commissioned for the San Diego State University (SDSU) campus for the iconic Hardy Tower. Surprisingly, these murals, assumed to be destroyed long ago when Hardy Tower was renovated in the 1950s, were only recently rediscovered during ceiling repairs. Seth Mallios, Chair of the Department of Anthropology at SDSU, has worked extensively on efforts to document, recover, restore, and preserve these important aspects of San Diego and SDSU history.

One mural at SDSU has been of particular interest. The 25-foot long “San Diego Industry” was completed in 1936 by SDSU student George Sorenson, and provides an excellent snapshot of the tuna fish industry in San Diego at the time. This restored mural, and others, are now displayed prominently in the SDSU Library Dome, and this video provides an excellent full view of the mural along with an informative discussion by Mallios.

Close-up of "San Diego Industry"

Each step of the industry is depicted in the mural, though not all of it has survived the years of neglect. On the left-hand side of the mural we see men fishing, weighing the fish, and then gutting them. In the middle we see women in assembly lines, and to the far right, Asian men are working in front of bins of cylindrical cans. Mallios assumes that Sorenson used as his model for the mural the Van Camp Seafood Company, which had the first commercial tuna canneries, one of which was located in San Diego.

Close-up of "San Diego Industry" featuring Asian men separated from other workers

One interesting aspect of “San Diego Industry” is that it features the diversity of people who worked in the tuna fish industry at the time: men and women, Asians, and African Americans; though, as Mallios observes, not everyone worked side-by-side. Sorenson’s placement of figures within the scene says a lot about American society in the 1930s.