Hi everyone! I write this final blog entry from the basement of my parents’ house in home-sweet-Colorado. I started my Fulbright journey a year ago yesterday and am proud to say I am very close to being done.
I finished my field work in May/June and have since been analyzing data, writing, revising, running my first queen-production workshop, helping out with a beekeeping and agroecology short-course, and, now, spending time stateside with family and friends.
I went to Mexico last August to study and document the course of the organic beekeeping movement in Chiapas. Over the course of several months, I was able to work with my host institution to shape this rather broad goal into a specific research protocol that matched my interests and also provided the research team with useful information. In the end, I carried out an evaluation of an annual organic beekeeping training course that Ecosur (my host institution) has been running for the past 11 years. Until now, Ecosur had never had the opportunity to evaluate the impact of this course. My job was to contact beekeepers that have participated in years past and, through field visits, interviews, and surveys, to better understand their experiences in organic beekeeping. In the end, I submitted a report summarizing the feedback I collected from the beekeepers and outlining strategies to improve the training course in the future. This evaluation provided our team with critical feedback and will help them to improve their teaching, outreach, and research on many levels.
What I learned. I learned about the complexity of organic beekeeping. Like, although the organic market does incentivize “best practices” in beekeeping, it doesn’t necessarily build environmental consciousness, and the system is fairly exclusive. For example, the certification process is expensive. It costs a lot to change out all your painted bee boxes for unpainted ones, which are free of chemicals but also break down more rapidly, so they rack up a replacement cost. Then there’s the stainless steel honey extractor, the organic wax, and the cost of keeping extra honey on the hives to feed your bees in times of scarcity. Not to mention the cost of certification itself, which can only be applied for in groups; individuals can’t certify, cooperatives and big businesses can. Also, if you live in a contaminated zone (if your neighbors use insecticides, for example), certification is not an option for you. Because the requirements are strict and expensive, many beekeepers with good intentions are excluded from the process…
I could go on for 17 pages, and if you’d like to know more I’d be happy to share. Especially if you read Spanish and you’re interested in editing my final report 😉
I learned a lot beekeeping, but was probably more impacted by other life experiences, mostly little things. For example, I learned how to clean fish, cook fish, and make one kind of mole. I learned how to build bee boxes, rig queen-rearing equipment, and melt wax like a witch with a cauldron. I made mud blocks for an adobe house (actually, an adobe latrine), learned new words (SPANISH!), listened to new languages, and used bee stings to heal aches and pains.
I still don’t know how to use a comma in Spanish, or speak in the past conditional tense, or even whether ‘past conditional’ is the name for the tense that I’ve been wanting to speak in for several months now. My salsa is still sloppy (the food and the dance), and I’ve only recently begun to understand the stop sign color code in town.
…so I’m going back to Mexico to work on those things (the comma things, among other things), and also to start a second Fulbright project. My next 6 months of funding comes from a Fulbright Social Engagement Grant, an opportunity for Fulbright alum to return to Mexico to implement community-building projects.
I’ll be doing a queer-rearing capacity building project with one of the beekeeping cooperatives I’ve gotten to know in the past year. For more information see the Queen-Rearing page.
I know it’s been a while, so you may not believe me when I say I’ll keep you updated when I return to Mexico in October, but we (my blog and I) made a good run August-February. That’s fairly substantial evidence to suggest that my blog attention span lasts approximately 6 months. And since my next project is a 6-monther, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to keep tabs on my progress here.