Lake Park Exhibit Raises Awareness of the Benefits of Bees

Little honeybees swarming about our ecosystem do more than make honey. But unfortunately, we often misunderstand or overlook what a big job these little guys do.

Bees play a crucial role in our food source, a job so important that researchers claim that without their existence, humans would not survive. The little buggers pollinate our crops — apples, avocados, cocoa beans, mangoes, guava, and tomatoes, among many others — ensuring that plants yield fruits and veggies. In other words, our food supply is directly dependent on bees.

Yet bees are dying off in such large numbers that scientists and advocates fear the species will soon become extinct. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has found that 50 percent fewer bees live in the U.S. than did 30 years ago.

That's why Rolando Barrero, founder of ActivistArtistA, an alternative-arts-event space in Boynton Beach, decided to take action. Barrero, along with the Artists of Palm Beach County and Steve Rullman of PureHoney Magazine, has curated the juried show "What's All the Buzz About?" to bring attention to the plight of bees. This multimedia exhibit doubles as a fundraiser for the Palm Beach County Beekeepers Association and opens with a reception Friday evening at Art on Park, located a block west of Brewhouse Gallery in Lake Park.

"The idea is that the bee population keeps going down; even in South Florida, we need to do more than just complain," says Barrero. "It's wonderful to sit in a rally against GMOs [genetically modified organisms] in our food. It's great to scream and yell about the plants riddled with pesticides that kill our bees. But when we take action and work together, we make a difference."

The pesticide in question is called neonicotinoid, and it is used widely in the United States among crop farmers. According to research issued earlier this spring by the Harvard School of Public Health, neonicotinoid is the culprit responsible for killing off bees in dramatic numbers. Last year, the European Union banned its use, but the United States ('Merica!) has yet to follow suit.

Large agrochemical corporations such as Monsanto Co., Bayer, and Dupont argue that the increase in bee deaths is due to various, complex factors; namely, a parasitic mite is to blame. Bee­ologics, a bee research firm owned by Monsanto, published those findings in Science magazine in June 2012.

Whoever is right, the reality is that this is a sad situation. Al Salopek, president of the Palm Beach County Beekeepers Association and the nonprofit Bee Understanding, a youth education organization, says, "Thirty percent of the food we eat is directly related to bee pollination. Bees pollinate not just our food crop but also cotton plants. I wouldn't be able to wear the shirt I have on if it wasn't for the bees."

Salopek plans to have an observational beehive on display at the opening reception Friday and will answer questions on beekeeping and the vital connection between pollination and the food we eat. "It all boils down to bees, but many people don't understand what the actual issue is," he says. "If we don't have bees for pollination, we won't have food at the grocery store."

Jess Etelson, an eco-artist whose work will be on display, creates ceramic habitats for animals and bees. He began making birdhouses out of ceramics three years ago — some are the size of a football — and quickly discovered that birds didn't care for them but bees would swarm to them. Later, he found out that in Egyptian times, beekeepers used that material to attract the insects.

"There are different types of bees," Etelson says. "Honeybees live in a hive, and solitary bees live in wood crevasses."

Nearly 30 works will make up the show, all with a bold message. The winner for Best in Show will showcase art at a beekeeping conference in October in West Palm Beach. The Jon Greco Band and special guests will provide live tunes at the reception Friday.

Rullman, who served as a "Buzz About" juror, publishes PureHoney Magazine, a monthly indie-music and events-centric zine distributed throughout South Florida, but he is not a beekeeper, despite the name of his publication. A fixture on South Florida's music scene, Rullman named it PureHoney for philosophical reasons. The soft-spoken West Palm Beach resident follows "a hive mentality" and believes that when people work together, like bees, they can make positive things happen.

"At the end of the day, more people need to be aware of what these large corporations are doing to the planet," says Rullman. "Without regard for humanity and the environment we live in, it makes absolutely zero sense. The plight of the bees is not good for us; it's not good for humanity."

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Andrea Richard