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Most children think about honey bees as stinging pests that should be avoided, not valuable creatures that need their protection.

But a couple of married farmers in Sebastopol, Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser, are trying to change that stereotype.

The goal of their nine-acre farm is to provide a diverse bounty of organic produce to dozens of customers every week, and to keep local populations of pollinators such as honey bees thriving, against a national trend of bee population decline.

And their labor of love is to teach everyone in their reach about that goal.

"Mother Nature knows how to do it right, so the less we interfere, the more we can succeed," Paul Kaiser said of his farming operation.

To that end, around and between the rows of crops Kaiser has planted hundreds of native plants that flower during cold months, giving honey bees a natural source of sustenance throughout the winter. "We try to provide habitats for pollinators. The honey bees are the ones that are dying out from colony collapse disorder," Kaiser said. "We're making sure to have perennial habitats right in the middle of the farm fields, so we can create more balance in the ecosystem."

Kaiser said one reason bee populations have declined is the annual practice of trucking bees into the Central Valley to help pollinate almond trees. When they are on a one-crop farm for several months, the singularity of the bees' diets weakens their immune system.

"That's like you having just rice for two months," Kaiser said.

It's a problem many people don't think about, but Kaiser is finding ways to teach families about healthful ways to maintain a natural ecosystem on a multi-crop farm.

On their land, the Kaisers produce everything from green eggs laid by their auracana chicken to veggie beds overflowing with Brussells sprouts and kale. Every corner has been engineered to recreate natural systems and serve as a friendly habitat for pollinators.

The pond captures water from a natural stream and stores the flow until it is used to irrigate crops. It's crawling with crayfish and turtles, and is the occasional resting spot for visiting egrets and swans. "You create the habitat, and they just come," Kaiser said. "They just want it."

Each animal on the farm has a role. Kaiser refers to the sheep as "rotational lawn mowers." A large pen of 30 chickens fertilize the ground, and when they've eaten through much of the grass on one patch of land, they are moved to another to gobble grasses and secrete their natural fertilizers.

Even wasps have an important role: They eat bug larvae and insect eggs, and prey on pests.

"Mother nature doesn't segregate her animals from her plants," Kaiser said. "The by-product of an animal is a fertilizer for a plant, and the by-product from a plant is food for the animal."

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Charlie the llama protects the smaller animals from predators like coyotes with his fierce kick, but he also entertains the children who arrive with their families on weekends for educational tours. Kaiser said he provides the service free to farm members, and charges a small fee to others for the two-hour tour.

"He loves giving kisses, he loves saying hi," Kaiser said about Charlie. "Most llamas are pissy, aggressive, testy, etcetera, but he's unique."

Kaiser's efforts were recognized in October when he won the 2010 Farmer Rancher Pollinator Conservation Award, sponsored by North American Pollinator Protection Campaign and the National Association of Conservation Districts.

The award is part of an international effort to promote awareness about pollinators including birds, bees, bats, butterflies, and beetles that enable reproduction in more than 75 percent of flowering plants, or up to one-third of the nation's food supply. "I want my kids to grow up knowing where their food comes from," said Elizabeth Kaiser, who works on the business side of the farm and compiles recipes for members. "And I want that for other people's kids, too."

You can reach Staff Writer Cathy Bussewitz at 521-5276 or cathy.bussewitz@pressdemocrat.com.

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