Leah Nakamori is afraid of bees, but on Saturday the 8-year-old from Farmingdale was planting a flower in a garden at Bethpage State Park as hundreds of the insects buzzed around her.
She has learned that bees — which are declining in population worldwide — are a critical part of the ecosystem and need flowers to survive.
“I feel like this helps us get food,” she said of her help in expanding the garden. “Without bees, we’d have nothing to eat.”
Leah joined other kids and adults in planting dozens of wildflowers at the park’s pollinator garden to mark National Honey Bee Day. She and her Girl Scout troop helped plant 1,000 flowers in the spring.
The Bethpage garden began in 2015 and continues to expand, this year with the help of a grant from Bayer AG’s crop science division. The German company, with U.S. headquarters in North Carolina, sponsored Saturday’s event and similar ones in California and Illinois.
Beekeeper Grace Mehl was on hand to explain the importance of bees — and how wildflowers that Long Islanders can plant in their own gardens can help feed them. About a third of the food we eat is produced by honeybees, she said.
“If you did not have pollinators, you would not have [most of] your fruits and vegetables, even things like onions that you wouldn’t think need bees,” she said.
Mehl and fellow beekeeper Moira Alexander care for five hives elsewhere in the park.
Suburbanization leads to a loss of bee habitat, and reduction in habitat is a key reason why the commercial honeybee population in the United States is declining, along with parasites, pests, pathogens and pesticides, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Much of the flowering vegetation in residents’ yards on Long Island blooms at roughly the same time, in the spring. The Bethpage pollinator garden at the edge of a baseball field has more variety, with flowers that bloom for months, providing nectar for bees throughout the summer, said park horticulturalist Victor Azzaretto.
Leah’s mom, Jessica Nakamori, 32, said she wants her daughter and 3-year-old son, Jack, to understand the importance of bees.
“It’s up to our future generation to have food that’s sustainable,” she said. “The bees are in danger. Without them, there won’t be anything for us.”