Bee

BLOOMBERG NEWS

PETERBOROUGH — Bees are crucial to our food supply, and it goes way beyond honey.

That’s the message two local bee enthusiasts hope to spread by commissioning a 20-by-50-foot honeybee-themed mural on a wall of the Peterborough Community Center.

“If we didn’t have pollinators … our food systems would dwindle,” said Kin Schilling of Hancock, the founder of the Cornucopia Project, a Peterborough-based nonprofit organization that provides education about sustainable agriculture and healthy eating.

Schilling and beekeeper Melissa Stephenson of Peterborough are the founders of the N.H. Honey Bee Initiative. The new effort aims to raise awareness about the important work bees do and the perils they face.

The goal, they said, is to talk about the threats bees face and prompt changes that create a more bee-friendly environment.

“There’s so many stressors on the bees,” Stephenson said. Climate change messes with their seasonal rhythm, pesticides can poison them and declining plant diversity reduces their ability to collect pollen, she said.

The initiative’s first big project is the mural, to be painted in August by the North Carolina-based artist Matthew Willey.

Schilling and Stephenson are fundraising for the mural through The Local Crowd Monadnock, an online crowd-funding platform. The campaign, with a goal of $15,000, has already generated some buzz — as of Sunday afternoon, 24 people had pledged more than $6,800.

The mural’s design has yet to be determined — but is sure to be crawling with bees.

As part of a project he’s calling The Good of the Hive, Willey’s on a mission to paint 50,000 honeybees on murals around the world.

The number represents the population of a healthy hive requires, Willey said.

So far, he said, he’s painted more than a dozen murals and between 3,500 and 4,000 bees. (He’s planning an “official bee count” for July.)

Like Schilling and Stephenson, he’s trying to spread the word about the importance of pollination to the global food supply.

“There’s this gap in communication (between) the upper tier of government and these organizations, and bringing this information to the public in a way that really interests them, rather than scaring the crap out of them,” he said.

The murals are a “playful and fun” way to talk about a serious issue, Willey said. He often speaks to kids who are either curious or scared about bees, but don’t know about their role in pollination.

“There’s usually an emotional connection to them in some capacity, and you can build on that,” he said.

Willey usually takes about four weeks on a mural, partly because he sees the process as an interactive one. He’s not just there to paint, but also to chat with passersby about the project.

Events can also happen around the mural-in-progress. For example, Schilling said, she has talked to the N.H. Dance Institute in Keene about kids in its summer program dancing by the mural. (The program’s theme happens to be the bee.)

For Schilling and Stephenson, bees aren’t just important. They’re also fascinating, especially in the ways their hives echo human societies — the division of labor, the orderly living space, the scouts who go out in search of new places to populate.

Willey shares the fascination. His honeybee project isn’t just about the challenges facing bees, but also how the critters mirror our own society.

“The Good of the Hive Initiative begins with the struggle of the honeybees, but it also views the hive as a metaphor for communities of people,” a section on the Good of the Hive website reads. “Honeybees within the hive ‘think’ collectively; their immune system is collective: the health of the individual is based on the health of the collective.”

Paul Cuno-Booth can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1409, or pbooth@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @PCunoBoothKS