In 2006, Project Apis m. began working diligently for commercial beekeepers by investing in research and science to solve honey bee health challenges. Founders contributed funds to support applied research projects to answer priority questions. Since then, PAm has become the largest honey bee non-profit. It has invested over $8 Million in 118 practical research projects and over $2 Million in restoring habitat to provide nutrition to honey bees. We think of ourselves as “by the beekeepers, for the beekeepers,” and strive to be the go-to resource for answers. We are proud of where we are, excited by where we are going, and we know that none of this would have been possible without the vision, hard work, and tireless enthusiasm of Project Apis m’s founding leader – Christi Heintz. With Christi’s recent untimely passing, we hope you will join us in recognizing her contributions and the legacy she left for the beekeeping industry, through her leadership and friendship by contributing to the Christi Heintz Memorial Award.
In 2006, Christi was working at the Almond Board of California (see their remembrance here) when she was approached by Dan Cummings, Chair of the Board of Blue Diamond Almonds, with an unusual challenge – would she be willing to launch and lead a new non-profit organization whose sole purpose was to find and fund practical research that could tackle the emerging honeybee health crisis? At the time, hives were dying, and no one knew why. The traditional management practices beekeepers learned from their fathers were no longer working. The term CCD emerged, and amidst all of this, the almond growers started planting more almonds. Almond prices were rising, and we would need more bees than ever before to pollinate what would ultimately become a million acres of almonds in California.
Almond producers and beekeepers forged a partnership and tackled the problem the best way they knew how – by digging in and doing it themselves. They envisioned what would become Project Apis m., and they turned to Christi Heintz to make it happen. Although she did not have any financial interests in the industry, she was a natural choice for the job. As Bob Curtis of the Almond Board of California recalls, she was already accomplished at building partnerships and alliances. She helped introduce and launch what would become the California Sustainability Program and formed the Almond Board’s Bee Task Force. She understood the interconnectedness of the many environmental components and how a change in one would affect another. Mostly, though, as Dan Cummings explains, “Christi was very bright, charismatic and passionate about her interests. Thankfully, honey bees became an interest and beekeepers and pollinated crops reap the fruits of her commitment to building Project Apis m. into what it is today.”
Christi accepted the challenge of creating Project Apis m. and jumped in to the task with her characteristic energy and enthusiasm. She made the connections, established key partnerships, built lasting relationships, and drove for results in a way that was needed by our industry. She recognized that it would take all of us, working together, to solve the problems facing honeybees and beekeeping, and she worked to engage stakeholders throughout the industry – even reaching out beyond our traditional “borders” to engage agribusiness and consumer retail corporations, inviting them to make donations and participate in programs that make a difference and contribute to bee health. Zac Browning recalls “In the beginning, there was a crisis, but not much money. There were no big corporate donors at first. She appeared at every meeting she could possibly attend, telling the story of the work at PAm and asking for contributions, no matter the size. I remember well her fiery blue eyes, which could be quite intimidating, but to me, they foretold her passion and purpose as she watched and listened so intently….At least some of those meetings were paid for out of her own pocket. She was a force to be reckoned with, even when it came to settling arguments with passionate, well-respected beekeepers. On more than one occasion, I witnessed Christi cut through all the clamber and confusion of a rank discussion to point out obvious truth, apparent flaw, or to help find the common ground.”
For many years, Christi operated PAm as a virtual “one-woman show.” Working together with her Board of almond growers and commercial beekeepers, to minimize administrative overhead and maximize the funds going toward solutions. Christi launched the PAm forage and nutrition programs, Seeds for Bees and The Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund, to expand the footprint and impact of Project Apis m. into applied solutions. Most notable, Christi built into the bedrock of Project Apis m. the values and ethic we continue with today – the belief that hard work, persistence, a focus on excellence, and working together benefits everyone in the end. Christi had gumption and tenacity. Using those same traits, PAm will continue to impact the industry and strive tirelessly to find the solutions beekeepers need. Christi’s family created a website to commemorate her, and invited donations to PAm in her honor. In 2020 we will include these funds and industry contributions to offer the Christi Heintz research award to a student who embodies Christi’s spirit of curiosity, collaboration, and fearlessness. We invite individuals and organizations to contribute to PAm, designating the funds to this award. Link to donate here.
From Christi’s many friends and colleagues in the beekeeping industry:
From Zac Browning, Beekeeper & PAm Board Vice Chair
I really enjoyed working with Christi. I will always remember her strategic questions. She kept everybody on their toes, at least when she was serious. At a meeting in DC, at USDA, she politely asked the Deputy Administrator why honey bees and beekeepers were being ignored by NRCS. When he said they weren't, she replied, that based on the habitat mixtures, policies, and programs, they certainly were. At another meeting of pollinator stakeholders in DC, Christi sat quietly observing a discussion of a work group that clearly had a preconceived agenda that did not represent the concerns of the attendees. She asked for the microphone and boldly asked the attendees if the discussion points were on track. When the answer was no, she stood up and started asking the beekeepers in the room what the issues were and what needed to be done. At that point, the thought leader yielded the floor to Christi, and she facilitated a new discussion. She was inspiring to me. Fearless and outspoken.
From Joe Traynor, Bee Broker & PAm Founding Board
Christi's skills at getting things done were unparalleled. Her ability to work with a diverse set of people was impressive to observe first-hand and carried over from her stellar career with the Almond Board. Christi spent considerable time in securing by far the largest bee-research donation ever: over $4 million dollars from Costco (and counting!) The Costco funding alone would be enough to secure an enduring legacy for anyone, but Christi accomplished much much more during her lifetime. Christi was never concerned about getting the credit for her work, she just wanted to get the job done, whatever the task at hand. Her passing is an incomprehensible loss.
From Pat Heitkam, Queen Breeder & PAm Board Past Chair
Christi was a visionary. I remember a small meeting several years ago with Christi and Steve Park, where she talked about crop advisors for almond orchards. She knew the bee industry was maturing and that there was a need for advisors in our industry too. In my opinion, her vision and the capacity she developed at Project Apis m. is what allowed us to make that a reality, by supporting the Bee Informed Partnership, one of the best innovations in our industry.
From Steve Park, Queen Breeder & PAm Founding Board
Christi was a good listener and a uniter. She dug in and worked great with people in groups and one on one, she did whatever it took to help us all work together to identify our problems.
From Michelle Flenniken, Researcher & PAm Science Advisory Chair
Christi Heintz was a remarkable woman who was many things to many people (i.e., mom, wife, friend, colleague, and confidante). To me, she was a catalyst for honey bee research, who helped launch my career as a honey bee researcher. Her enthusiasm, natural scientific curiosity, and her passion to find answers that would help the beekeeping industry were clear. Christi welcomed scientists into the ‘bee world’ and encouraged them to “jump in” with both feet. She was an advocate for education and supported student fellowships in honey bee research. Her legacy will live on with her biological family and her extended family in the bee world and beyond.
From Gene Brandi, Beekeeper & PAm Founding Board
Christi will long be remembered as a hard-working, visionary leader who will be missed by all who knew her. It was my privilege to work with her on a number of bee industry-related endeavors over the past 20+ years, including the Almond Board’s Bee Task Force, the Industry Liaison Committee of the USDA Bee Lab in Tucson, Project Apis m, and the Honey Integrity Task Force, where she currently served as Director. She was blessed with a pleasant personality and her positive enthusiasm was contagious. As a beekeeper, I found it heartwarming to observe her love for honey bees and the beekeeping industry grow over the years. We in the beekeeping industry will be forever in her debt. She was a true friend, and it was a blessing to have had the opportunity to work with her for so many years.
From Danielle Downey, PAm Executive Director (Christi’s successor)
From our first meeting, Christi invited me on adventures seamlessly personal and professional: come ride motorbikes in the desert, come join dinner with these people doing bee research, accompany me to pitch PAm to Costco Canada (the support of which has been a very big deal for PAm and its resultant research and scholarships). On our first trip together, our flight to meet with Costco in Ottawa stopped short in Montreal. Christi didn’t hesitate to work the crowd of stranded passengers to find someone driving to Ottawa that night. We needed to be at that meeting, and Christi got it done! We were delighted, and by the end of the drive, our driver was too. Christi was funny and genuine, she was a good listener, able to bring people together with warmth and kindness. She was also driven and bold, a special combination, which people sought out to get things done- especially challenging tasks from scratch. At the Almond Board and at PAm, her legacy is sustaining inspiration. Together, we honor and celebrate Christi with our deepest gratitude and recognition of all she has done for our industry.