Puns rely on novelty factor. On our way to Sturekatten, to meet Anna Lind Lewin, to talk about her organisation Bee Welcome, Djina and I can’t stop making jokes related to bisyssla [avocation] biverkningar [side effects], bistånd [aid]. We are really looking forward to speaking about bees – real bees – in Swedish, and to someone who knows a lot about this precious animal. Together with Ulla Tillgren and Lotta Fabricius Kristiansen, Anna founded Bee Welcome last year. Her ties to Svenska Bin, the industry association for beekeeping, goes back many years though, and she has already heard bee-related puns to exhaustion.
But puns is what brought us together last year, and the reason why we are enjoying this year’s first semla together. The additional e in Bee Swedish is not coincidental, accidental, arbitrary. Nor is it, as some people assume, the result of an already taken, more appropriate, domain name. We believe that this animal has plenty of things to teach our own species, and that their social intelligence should serve as a reminder when us humans attempt to collaborate. We work according to the belief that successful communication is necessary for collaboration, and collaboration is something bees excel at.
The founders of Bee Welcome, as it happens, are less metaphorical in their approach, and centre their organisation around, exactly, beekeeping – as an integration practice. The aim of their organisation is to identify newcomers, refugees, with a background in professional beekeeping, and match them with Swedish beekeepers. And this actually serves more than one purpose.
- Beekeeping and honey production is much bigger in the Middle East and northern parts of Africa than the Nordics, and it is not an unusual profession amongst many of the refugees that have come to Sweden recently. At the same time, Swedish beekeeping enterprise is somewhat at loss, as the practice has suffered from heavy industrialisation, where different kinds of honey are mixed. The result is a bland taste without any respect to the art of producing honey of different flavours, from different flavours. A re-born interest for a small-scale, more craft-centred approach to honey production requires skill, and that skill is difficult to find in the Nordics.
- At the moment, Sweden imports, roughly speaking, 50% of honey consumed. At the same time, there is a rise in consumption, reflecting culinary and wellbeing trends, especially among the urban middle class. The same group is increasingly interested in local produce, and Swedish honey is becoming a sought after delicacy.
- There is also the ecological perspective. For pollination purposes, the Swedish natural and agricultural would in fact, benefit from a doubling of bee population. If we could increase the number of beekeepers, the natural and agricultural landscape would flourish.
Social and ecological sustainability aside, what appeals to me in this initiative, is the recognition of the individual, their skills, passions, interest. Within the re-localisation industry, one common strategy for dealing with estrangement and alienation is to create strong ties between the old and new homes of the expatriates. Expats are not only encouraged to pursue the same interests and hobbies in their new countries, but also create bonds between old and new communities, new and old habits, practices. I have always been astonished how this angle is never taken into consideration when integrating internationals with a lower socio-economic status – people who come here not because of a career move but because of tragedy. Not of choice, but of necessity. From this perspective, I genuinely welcome initiatives like Bee Welcome, as I believe it will create meaning to these individuals’ lives, and in a larger perspective, breaking ground for sustainable integration in society as a whole, as it recognises the individuals’ positive contribution to the local economy.
Second, bringing professional beeking skills into Swedish society, will give life to the delicate practice of honey production. In an increasingly globalised world, the local deserves to be dwelled on, to made sense of. Honey, Anna points out, has qualities of space and place. It is the product of the local flora, its smells, its flavours, seasons, collected in a jar. When visual meaning is inflated through mediafication, other senses will give another depth to memory and belonging.