Dreaming a future for bees

08 September 2023

When I called Ariele Muzzarelli and she told me her story, it reminded me of a painting by Dali. The one with my favorite title. It’s called “Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening,” and, upon closer examination, Ariele’s current life is indeed a dream caused by a bee…

The darkness, the buzzing… This dream appeared three times at night to Ariele, who saw it as a sort of revelation, a calling: “The bees called me. They asked me to follow them.” And that’s how Ariele Muzzarelli started as a hobbyist, eventually becoming a professional beekeeper in 2018, a “bee-infatuated” professional, as she describes herself, because her life is a constant blossoming of projects and commitments. Her company, based in Turin, is called Apes Apicoltura.

What Bees Feel

My conversation with Ariele begins with something that has always fascinated me. Understanding how bees see us, interpret us, and react to what we do and our moods. “Certainly, bees can sense me,” she confirms. “They are highly attuned to body language, and they can tell exactly how the person in front of them is feeling. If I visit the beehives tired and hurried, lacking presence and focus on the present and the bees, they notice it. Beekeeping is a profession of relationship and understanding a different language.” Bees, in short, have different reactions, not only to movements and moods but are also highly sensitive to smells.

“If there’s one thing that bees can’t stand, it’s synthetic scents. Unnatural fragrances greatly bother them, and if something bothers them, they certainly make it known! Another aspect they are sensitive to is fear: living the relationship with bees in fear is something that’s not good for either them or us.” Ariele herself, in the beginning, felt a bit of fear. Today, her feeling towards her friends and companions is definitely joy.

Ariele Muzzarelli at Cheese 2023

At Cheese 2023, Ariele brings her experience as a beekeeper to the conference “Meadows: Why They’re Disappearing and How to Save Them” on September 15 at 3 p.m

Other speakers include:

  • Giampiero Lombardi, Professor, Department of Agricultural, Forestry and Food Sciences, University of Turin;
  • Bruno Martin, Senior Researcher, French National Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE);
  • Jim Levitt, Director of the International Land Conservation Network (ILCN) at the Lincoln Institute;
  • Mariana Donnola, Breeder at La Argentina; Regenerative Breeding Expert at Deafal; National Association of Producers for Regenerative Organic Agriculture.
  • Consorzio Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Davide Nicoli, Producer of the Slow Food Presidium Asiago Stravecchio

A nomadic life

If you were to ask Ariele Muzzarelli where her workplace is, you’d be surprised to hear that it’s half of Piedmont. “Like many colleagues, I’m always searching for the best flowerings and constantly looking for flowery meadows to take the bees to. I’ve taken them to Druento for dandelions, to Pinerolo Alta for chestnut trees, to Villarbasse for linden trees, to Balme for mountain wildflowers…” Lately, Ariele’s bees have ventured to Verrua Savoia, the easternmost municipality in the province of Turin, bordering Asti, Alessandria, and Vercelli, and also to Usseaux and Prà Rostino.

I asked her how she selected all these places. “At first, I listened a lot to others, and as a rule, I trust my colleagues. Being a beekeeper is a life choice, a profession you have to pursue with passion. Beekeepers form a community, and they don’t just look at profit; they’re extremely helpful in sharing tips and advice with each other.” This state of affairs is even more important and fundamental now, as meadows have become impoverished in terms of species, and bees need much more care.

Exchange

However, it’s not just the advice of colleagues. The activity that Ariele is carrying out is a genuine scouting action for the best meadows. “Typically, this is how I operate: I get recommendations for the best areas, then I investigate, go on-site, ask the locals if there are available fields. At that point, my knowledge of plant species comes into play.” It’s all about combining knowledge about spaces, species, and flowerings.

So, it happens that Ariele’s bees find a place to stay. The terms of the agreements are always different: “In Villarbasse, in exchange for their hospitality, I did some maintenance; in Pinerolo, I exchanged some of the honey produced. Fortunately, ours is a world where dynamics that have been lost elsewhere still exist. It’s a world where bartering still exists.”

One dream creates another

If it all started with a dream, there’s another dream that Ariele Muzzarelli is nurturing, and that’s to return to stationary beekeeping. To give the bees good pastures again. And, furthermore, to improve the lives of wild, unmanaged pollinator insects.

“From 2018 to 2022, as beekeepers, we saw huge shortages related to acacia. It’s the flower everyone looks forward to, the one from which we would get the most, but for many years, it has been less generous. This lack results in substantial lack of nutrition for the bees, and consequently, they find themselves disoriented, and we have to feed them in emergencies, with water and sugar. It’s clear that very delicate balances have been disrupted, and all of this harms the bees and perhaps even more so the other pollinators who, without producing honey, don’t have us beekeepers to protect them…”

Tied to the dream of returning to stationary beekeeping and protecting wild pollinator insects, something she cares deeply about, is the beautiful dream of regenerating fields, meadows, and flower gardens. This dream has a name: the Fioraia Project, a project for circular and regenerative agriculture to safeguard biodiversity and improve the lives of pollinator insects. In a short time, this model was appreciated and included in the “Technical Committee for the Biodiversity of Pollinating Insects,” recently established by the Piedmont Region along with other organizations.

In a nutshell, the project consists of rebuilding habitats rich in flowers, recovering unused fields that could otherwise return to the wild, making way for forests and thickets. In these fields, they plant flowering species. Ariele concludes: “We’ve created mixtures of botanical species suitable for the areas being recovered. There are cornflowers, poppies, legumes, clover, yarrow, silene, salvia pratensis… a mixture of perennial herbaceous plants, along with some annuals. When private individuals or institutions contact us, we take over the field, map it, and intervene. We bring it back to bloom. We give it life. And beauty.”

Let’s give life to this dream together at Cheese.

by Silvia Ceriani, [email protected]

Cheese 2023 is organized by Slow Food and the City of Bra from September 15-18. See you there! #Cheese2023

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