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Hammond explains the buzz about sunflowers and bees

Robert Houk • Feb 7, 2019 at 6:00 AM

Judith Hammond is a professor emeritus in East Tennessee State University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology and co-founder of the Center for Community Outreach and Applied Research. Most of her university work focused on welfare reform in East Tennessee.

As she transitioned into retirement, Hammond said her “passion for protecting bees and pollinators” led to the creation of What’s the Buzz, a local non-profit organization supporting bee-centric beekeeping and pollinator habitats.

Fast Facts

Favorite dessert: “Hands down, pear tart with creme anglaise in Alsace, France. It was unforgettable.”

Dog or cat person: “Absolutely dog. We have a black-and-tan coonhound and German shepherd. They keep us active, and are frequent visitors to the Dog Park.”

Important life advice: “Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not.” (Luke 12:27)

How do you describe What’s the Buzz to people who hear of your group for the first time?

What’s the Buzz promotes awareness of the essential role of pollinators in our ecosystem, pollinator-friendly gardening and beekeeping practices that support the well-being of the bees.

We urge people to leave their blossoming dandelions and clover alone and mow after blooming. These “weeds” are favorite foods of pollinators early in the spring when they get more active.

What’s your greatest challenge as director of What’s The Buzz?

My greatest challenge is the widespread use of chemicals on lawns and natural habitat that decrease the vitality and sustainability of pollinating plants and pollinators. Another challenge is common practices used by hobbyist and commercial beekeepers that weaken the immune system and overall health of the bees.

Why bees?

Eight years ago, a shimmering swarm of honeybees visited a shrub one afternoon in our backyard. We were very disappointed when they were gone the next morning and I wanted to know where they went and why. I soon learned that bees are essential to our food supply and their condition is dire. In fact, 80 percent of registered hives in Tennessee did not make it through last winter

What’s a “sunflower fort,” and why should we be planting them?

As part of Johnson City’s Sesquicentennial Celebration, we are asking organizations, schools, churches, businesses and local residents to plant sunflowers as a way to salute our city with stunning color and provide a banquet for local pollinators. Flowers may be planted in containers, small gardens or anchor gardens displaying 150 flowers.

The sunflower forts are a fun way to engage families in planting seeds and growing flowers while providing a circular sanctuary to play in. Sunflowers were selected because they are a symbol of loyalty and longevity, and offer a motherlode of nectar and pollen. Caterpillars eat their foliage, and birds feast on the dried seeds.

Where is your favorite spot to enjoy nature?

My own backyard. I can watch the garden grow, birds feed, the coming and goings in my hive and throw the ball to the shepherd ad infinitum.

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