Barbara Sinclair – How to ‘Bee’ an Activist
Staff emerita Barbara Sinclair has always believed in activism through education. From 1994 to 2011, she lent her passion about women’s rights to the CSULB Women’s Resource Center as its office manager.
“I’ve always been a feminist and a women’s activist,” Sinclair said. “It was just a perfect fit. In fact, my degree is in women’s studies (B.A., 1999), which I finished off with a fee waiver at CSULB. I just really wanted to help young women because I didn’t feel like they were getting a fair shake.”
Since retiring, Sinclair has become more involved in environmental activism, particularly in relation to bees. According to a Jan. 16 article in the New York Times, insect pollination is responsible for almost $200 billion of agricultural production every year, with 70 percent of the main crops used for human consumption dependent on pollinators. Concerns are rising that the decades-long decline in the world’s bee population may be occurring at an accelerated rate.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a consensus yet, but it looks as if it’s chemical applications on agriculture, specifically neonicotinoids,” Sinclair said. “It’s a specific type of pesticide that doesn’t kill bees outright, so it’s a little more trouble to blame it. But what it does is interfere with their navigation systems so they can’t get home. You go to a hive and it’s completely empty.”
In February 2012, Sinclair founded the Long Beach Beekeepers with two friends. The organization concentrates on three areas: Long Beach’s neighborhood ordinances and environmental regulations, bee rescues and education.
“We are working with the environmental committee of the city council because we’re trying to get the local ordinance changed,” Sinclair said. “There’s an ordinance for bees in the animal husbandry section of the city code. The beekeepers in Long Beach, of which there are many, want the restrictions relaxed. Currently you have to have a hive 100 feet from any other house, which is impossible, and 10 feet in the air. No one can figure out where that rule came from.”
Bee rescues are another of Sinclair’s specialties. The process involves extracting the live bees from an unwanted location, such as a garage or an attic, by cutting out the honeycomb and shaking the bees into a specially constructed hive box. The bees are then transported to a new home, while the excess honey and beeswax are available for processing into food and gift items.
“Bees in a colony reproduce by creating another group that leaves with the old queen to a new place (they leave behind a small group and a new queen),” Sinclair explained. “Managed beekeeping prevents a lot of the problems with swarming and of bees relocating to, for instance, a compost pile. When a beekeeper sees that a colony is getting ready to divide, he or she will do what’s called a split and create a second colony home for them, which keeps them close by under a beekeeper’s watchful eyes and their honey available for harvesting.”
Along with the false nomenclature “killer bees,” which she believes is a creation of the media, Sinclair spends a lot of time educating the public about the benefits of beekeeping.
“We go to the farmer’s markets, city activities like the bike safety week. We have a display hive that has live bees in it, and when kids come to watch, they’re fascinated,” Sinclair said. “We’ll talk to them about bees, and every once in a while a local bee will buzz around because it smells the honey.
“You can take a bee that’s not local to that hive, put it on your finger and it will just walk around,” she continued. “That’s another misconception people have. When there are bees out on your rose bushes, they don’t care if you’re there. They’re not protecting their hive so you’re not a threat to them. They’ve got a job to do. Even if they sting you, it’s an accident.”
Sinclair hopes to extend her bee activism to the CSULB campus, particularly in the area of sustainability.
“I’ve connected with (Energy and Sustainability manager) Paul Wingco to ask him what we could do as a club to connect with the campus, because we’d like to do events like Earth Day,” Sinclair commented. “We’re also in contact with an entomology professor who is, hopefully, going to work with us to put some teeth into our information to the city council.”
For someone who has always used activism as a tool to improve a community, Sinclair is definitely in her element as a beekeeper and rescuer.
“I remember talking to (Vice President for Administration and Finance) Mary Stephens at CSULB once, and she asked if I was still working with bees,” Sinclair said with a laugh. “When I said I’d founded a bee club, she commented, ‘Oh my God, it’s just in the genes!’ I think that says it all.”