Ypsi festival seeks to celebrate all local pollinators, not just honey bees, with name change

Ypsilanti's former Festival of the Honey Bee will celebrate its 10th anniversary Sept. 2 with a new name: Festival of the Pollinators.

Local beekeepers Elize Jekabson and Jamie Berlin launched the Festival of the Honey Bee in 2012 after many Ypsi residents experienced a growing awareness of the importance of bees and petitioned to change city law to allow beekeeping in the city's backyards in the early 2000s. There was also a push from local residents to have both the city and Ypsilanti Township certified as Bee Cities USA, a certification given to communities that have bee-friendly policies. 

The first festival was a three-day affair, held in conjunction with Ypsilanti First Fridays. It included a bike tour of local beehives, activities for kids, and lots of bee costumes.

"It had a heavy focus on being a networking event for beekeepers, and at that time we had an understanding that there was a major need to help protect the honey bee," Jekabson says. 

However, over the years, Jekabson says ecologists and biologists have painted a more nuanced picture about pollination in the United States. 

"While the honey bee is still important to our food systems and overall pollination efforts here in the United States, honey bees are not native to this continent," she says. "In introducing so many honey bees to this landscape, we are taking away resources from native pollinators that have evolved for tens of thousands of years to rely on specific native plants."

For example, monarch butterflies are one native local pollinator whose populations may drop if the milkweed plants they rely on diminish. Festival organizers have been making an effort over the last several years to celebrate other pollinators, from native bees and bats to butterflies, and the event's name change solidifies that change in focus.

"I felt that spotlighting honey bees … did a disservice to the native pollinators we need to protect," Jekabson says. "I feel like we did a great job bringing awareness to the honey bee through the festival, and we can do the same for our native pollinators."

One way to support native pollinators is to plant native flowers and restore biodiversity in our yards and across the community, Jekabson says. She says anyone interested in this cause can learn more through the nonprofit Homegrown National Park.

"The idea is that, if everyone starts planting native on whatever property they have, we can create biodiverse corridors that would become the nation's biggest 'national park,'" she says. 

Jekabson says she and other bee enthusiasts pushed a "save the honey bee" narrative because they didn't know any better.

"But now we have an opportunity to use the platform we built on honey bees to help set it right," Jekabson says. "I honor the honey bee for getting us to this point of understanding the importance of biodiversity. It's just time for the native pollinators to shine."

This year's festival takes place in two main locations: from 3:30 p.m.-8 p.m. on Washington Street in downtown Ypsilanti, and from 4:30 p.m.-10 p.m. on East Cross Street. The event will include activities for children, live performances, book readings, a maker's market, a pub crawl, and more. More information is available through the festival's Facebook page.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.
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