While honeybee colonies all over the United States hibernate for the winter, former professional golfer and current student Parker Anderson, 32, is leading a meeting of UMBees, the University of Michigan’s student beekeeping club. While the tone of the meeting is light – buzzing from marketing to financing from the sale of scented lip balms – Anderson is leading the fight on campus to increase awareness and find innovative solutions to the environmental destruction inflicted by modern food production. Studies show that pesticide/fungicide use in large-scale agriculture has resulted in contamination of surface water, ground water, and soil. As a result of this contamination, species like the honeybee are being depleted all over the United States. Anderson is trying to solve this problem.
If the University of Michigan Sustainable Food Program were to endorse a “face” of their organization, that face would be Parker Anderson’s. Anderson is the President of the School of Natural Resources and Environment Student Government, founder and President of UMBees, former President of the Friends of the Campus Farm and is pursuing dual masters degrees in sustainable systems and landscape architecture. His passion for the environment, coupled with his experience in the golf industry, has led to his unique mission: to bring sustainable food programs and environmentally beneficial systems onto golf courses. According to the WorldWatch Institute, there are over 18,000 golf courses in the United States, which use harmful pesticides and fertilizers as well as over four billion gallons of water per day. Anderson said, “The golf industry is an industry that has a big environmental impact, and a lot of it is negative.”
Anderson grew up in California and Hawaii where he developed a love for the environment and the passion to change the direction of our ecological impact. After graduating from the University of California Santa Barbara (year) with a B.A. of economics, Anderson spent six years in the golf industry: three years as a professional golfer and five years as a club pro at various courses. Throughout this experience, Anderson noticed the environmentally damaging techniques used to keep golf courses pristine. He also saw the potential for golf courses in the United States, which cover over 1.7 million acres, to become mutually beneficial systems for the players, community and environment. Anderson said that the golf industry is “at a tipping point, there’s a lot of potential for decline.” He said that furthermore, “by tweaking a few things, so it filters water, or it is a habitat for biodiversity, or it captures storm water, or you can grow food on it,” there could certainly be “benefit to having a golf course.” While some of these goals may seem a bit unlikely, like growing food on a golf course, Anderson thinks that with a few simple changes like removing harsh chemicals, turning a golf course into a habitat for biodiversity is possible.
Anderson said, “Everything kind of ties together; as far as being involved with UMBees, pollinators are a huge component of our agricultural system and humans are really dependent on them, so that’s definitely a component that I think about when I’m looking at potential for golf courses; creating environments for biodiversity, and for pollinators to thrive.”
Anderson’s involvement in UMBees was sparked by the widely recognized decline of honeybee colonies, largely due to chemical use in agriculture, which could have detrimental effects on the pollination of agricultural products.
Anderson sees the potential in every golf course to become an environmentally beneficial system. He thinks that by raising awareness about the docile nature of the honeybee, and creating environments that catalyze biodiversity, he can contribute to the regrowth of honeybee colonies.
While it may seem far fetched, Anderson also thinks he can implement small-scale farming on golf courses, a skill he picked up as the President of U of M’s campus farm. Anderson thinks that if more of these chemical free, sustainable agricultural systems are used to produce food in America, the nation can become less dependent on food produced in large scale, environmentally damaging agricultural systems.
On a broader scale, he plans to use the knowledge gained in his degrees in sustainable systems and landscape architecture to tie together these – and other – ecologically beneficial systems to create the modern, mutually beneficial golf course of the future. Someday soon, with Anderson’s help, we will see golf courses not as environmental nuisances, but as beautiful complements to the environmental regenerative systems that are being incorporated into modern society.