MILBRIDGE, Maine — Wyman’s President and CEO Edward R. Flanagan knows how important honeybees are to the annual blueberry crop.
With that in mind, the company has launched its 2015 honeybee campaign, a program that distributes free wildflower seeds in an effort to educate the public about the importance of pollinators and their habitats.
“There are no blueberries without pollinating honeybees,” Flanagan said Wednesday.
The Washington County-based firm’s website, nobeesnoberries.com, encourages people to sign up for the free seeds and provides information on Colony Collapse Disorder, the name given in the absence of a known cause, to the mysterious disappearance of honeybee colonies over the last decade in the U.S.
“Honeybees are responsible for pollinating one-third of our nation’s produce, including wild blueberries,” the website reads. “Every berry we grow owes its existence to the crazy dance of a honeybee from flower to flower. In our business, it’s simple. No bees, no berries.”
Flanagan noted that blueberry plants bloom in May. But beyond blueberries, bees need other food sources.
“You’ve got to have other things flowering for the bee to survive,” Flanagan said.
As a “stakeholder with a big blueberry crop,” Wyman’s has been active in the effort to help beekeepers solve the mystery behind Colony Collapse Disorder, Flanagan said.
In 2008, Flanagan testified before Congress in support of increased funding for research into the disorder.
Wyman’s provided $10,000 in funding to the Pollinator Partnership, a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting pollinators and their habitats.
It also invested $24,000 into researching optimum pollinator habitats on Prince Edward Island, where Wyman’s also owns blueberry fields and keeps bees, he said.
“There was a big blueberry crop on the island and not enough bees,” Flanagan said.
Wyman’s cut down trees along the edges of blueberry fields there and planted flowers as part of its effort to maintain good habitats for the bees.
Flanagan said the company wanted to let the public know “we are spending real money on this real problem.”
Honeybees are important not only to blueberries but also to other crops, he said. “Fortunately … anyone can do their part to help by creating their own pollinator habitat, and we’re happy to help people do just that.”
Last year, the company initially offered free wildflower seeds on Facebook.
“We bought what we thought were plenty of seeds,” Flanagan said.
The company had purchased 10,000 packets of seeds but received 25,000 requests in two days, he said.
“We wanted to attract people who were seriously interested in the honeybee issue. We wound up with a lot of people who were just drawn to the word ‘free.’”
Calling that a “learning experience,” Flanagan said the company decided to try something different.
The company is doing what they call “flash swarms,” in which employees dress up like bees at events and hand out literature and seed packets.
At a flash swarm on Aug. 1 at the TD Beach to Beacon 10K Road Race in Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth, the swarm handed out 2,585 seed packets, Flanagan said. The swarm also visited the Portland Farmers Market that same day, handing out another 305 packets.
Nearly 1,000 more seed packets had been ordered as of Wednesday, through the nobeesnoberries website.
Another flash swam event is planned in Boston in the coming weeks.
“I was concerned about how this would go over but, gee, the feedback’s been great,” Flanagan said. “And it’s probably good for our image too. There’s nothing wrong with that.”