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Hive of hardworking honeybees poisoned in Florida church’s mission garden


Office staff at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers ‘sad and mad’

May 4, 2021

Some of the honeybees in the mission garden at Covenant Presbyterian in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Kent Sheets)

It’s only been a few months since Covenant Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers, Florida, worked with a professional beekeeper to relocate a couple of well-established bee colonies from an old, rotten tree on the property. The bees were successfully moved to side-by-side hives in the church’s Together We Grow Mission Garden.

Recently, the church’s beekeeper, Uwe (pronounced Ooo-va) Rusch, harvested the first batch of honey that will be going to Misión Peniel, the Immokalee farmworkers ministry of Peace River Presbytery.

But then the church got “sad, sad news.” Someone poisoned one of the church’s beehives, and 40,000 to 50,000 bees died. Evidence found near the hive makes it clear the act was a deliberate killing of one of the two hives of bees, according to the Rev. Jeffrey DeYoe, the church’s senior pastor. The other hive was not harmed.

“Losing the bee colony has felt like losing members of one’s family,” DeYoe said. “Their existence added something to our self-image and sense of being with God’s world around us. As Uwe shared with us in a recent children’s sermon, recorded on video, honeybees are the only insects that produce food for human beings. We gave them space and they got busy doing good things.”

WINK News came to Covenant to cover the story and, in the course of the interview, Uwe stood in front of the camera with a number of bees crawling on his hand, while he held a jar of honey,” DeYoe said. “He was making the point that bees are harmless unless they feel threatened.”

All the food harvested from the mission garden is distributed through Misión Peniel, and the Pan de Vida, “bread of life” ministry it founded and oversees. Pan de Vida volunteers cook and deliver three healthy meals every week to any farmworker who is elderly or who is homebound as the result of disability or illness.

Covenant Presbyterian, a Matthew 25 church in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), dedicated its Together We Grow Mission Garden on Earth Day, April 22, 2018. The idea for a mission garden was birthed from a Sunday school class discussion about food security challenges of Immokalee farmworkers, who often struggle to put nutritious food of their preference on the table. 

Ellen and Rick Burnette, two Covenant members who served as agricultural missionaries in Thailand and other countries for many years, guided a team of volunteers in the development of the garden, with a goal of growing nutritious food that is well-loved by migrant worker families in the Immokalee community, but which they cannot readily and affordably find at local farmers’ markets or grocery stores.

The Burnettes say the garden at Covenant helped them in many ways to step away from their previous employment, and the security of monthly paychecks, to launch Cultivate Abundance, a faith-based nonprofit. Cultivate Abundance promotes home and community gardening in Southwest Florida’s Immokalee farmworkers community and beyond.

Soon after the Together We Grow Mission Garden took root at Covenant, Cultivate Abundance helped start the Misión Peniel Educational Garden to inspire, demonstrate, propagate and build community. The first “portable gardens” at Misión Peniel were 3- to 5-gallon buckets planted with lettuce, vegetable amaranth, mustard, eggplant, cherry tomatoes and okra. Since 2018, the garden at Misión Peniel has grown and shared over 3,000 pounds and dozens of types of vegetables, fruit and herbs.

In addition to gardens at Covenant Presbyterian and Misión Peniel, Cultivate Abundance partners with gardens at Golden Gate Community Center in Naples, at the Immokalee Health Education Site of Florida State University College of Medicine and in other efforts by small-scale food producers honoring farmworkers.

In reflecting on the sudden, tragic, and senseless death of the honeybees at Covenant, Cultivate Abundance co-founder Rick Burnette said, “As we’ve been taught that each sparrow matters to God, certainly tens of thousands of poisoned bees are a loss. Our garden demonstrates God-ordained interdependence; from the countless decomposers building the soil to the pollinators that visit the papaya, mango and starfruit flowers, to we growers who share skills, labor and friendship. We trust that the loss of these bees won’t be in vain, but, instead, remind us of the sacredness of all life and our responsibility as stewards.”

Tammy Warren, Communications Associate, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Hardworking Honeybees

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Elizabeth Johnson, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Kirstie Johnson, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray:

Thank you, Lord, for opportunities to share our gifts and learn from one another. Please give us the strength and courage to remain faithful to you while working hard to care for the rest of your children. We pray all this in your precious Son’s name. Amen.

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