The Buzz on Ypsilanti's Honey Bee Festival

. August 21, 2014.
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An interview with Jamie Berlin

by Michael Bianco

You might have heard the murmurs about the international crisis concerning honeybees. Since 2005, honeybees around the world have been dying off in unsustainable numbers. Since honey bees are responsible for pollinating 70 out of the top 100 human food crops, supplying about 90 percent of the world’s nutrition, people everywhere are responding to the crisis. From Brooklyn, NY to Donna, TX, positive, grassroots activism is being used to try to change the situation. I recently spoke with Jamie Berlin, a beekeeper and co-founder of the Ypsilanti Festival of the Honey Bee, to find out more about what she’s doing to raise awareness about the crisis.


Current: Jamie, tell me how you got into bees.

Jamie Berlin: In 2009, I saw a PBS episode of Nature called “The Silence of the Bees.” I was stunned by what was going on with the honey bees. A month or two later, a community member, Lisa Bashert, had been cited for illegally keeping bees and was mounting a campaign to legalize beekeeping in Ypsilanti. I joined her campaign and spoke in favor of bees before city council. The ordinance was passed in November, 2009, and the following spring, the Ypsi Food Co-op (where Lisa Bashert works) started the Local Honey Project (LHP). I learned how to be a beekeeper by participating in the project.

Are there other forms of bee activism you’re involved in?

I spent three years learning in the LHP, and then in the last two years I have formed a bee stewardship project called Ypsi Melissa. The program allows me to mentor new beekeepers and keep bees in partnership with community members throughout Ypsilanti. I’m working with about 12 hives in the city in a number of styles including Top bar, Warre and Langstroth. One of the folks I mentor is a sculptor and that’s how the festival was born.

Who is this sculptor/mentee/collaborator of yours? How did you start working together?

Her name is Elize Jekabson.
She asked me for some old comb because she wanted to make a bronze sculpture of the comb. It’s stunning, dead bees and all! She brought the sculpture to a talk that I did, and I was so struck by the weight and significance of the work. It was like a bronze sculpture to memorialize those who’ve died in battle. It inspired the idea of a bee art show, which quickly expanded into an idea for an entire festival.


Festival of the Honey Bee

Ypsilanti MI, September 5-7
Ypsilanti District Library
229 West Michigan Avenue
Ypsilanti, MI 48197

Artist’s reception
Friday, September 5, 7pm-10pm
Bona Sera Cafe
200 W. Michigan Avenue
Ypsilanti, MI, 48197

BIKE2BEES and BEE BAZAAR VenDor’s FaiR
Sunday, September 7
Arbor Brewing Company
Microbrewery 720 Norris St
Ypsilanti, MI 48198





How did the community respond to the festival?

It went great, phenomenal actually. Everything came together, thanks to all the volunteers and sponsors. Hundreds of people attended the events over the course of three days. Ypsi beekeepers turned up. Detroit beekeepers and folks from Jackson and the Flint area came. We have a really great maker culture here in Ypsi, and everyone seemed to really want the festival—an opportunity to celebrate bees.

Do you get the sense that Ypsi is becoming more “bee friendly” as a result of the festival?

Yes. It was great to meet some of Ypsi’s and Ann Arbor’s “beeks” (Bee Keeper Geeks) through this event. Community is one of the important aspects of beekeeping and I’d like to think that the festival is some of the glue holding it together!

What are some of the events that will be happening at the festival this year?

This year’s festival kicks off Friday evening, September 5, with a bee art show presented in partnership with Ypsilanti’s monthly art walk—First Fridays. Saturday morning, the Ypsilanti District Library will present a children’s program celebrating bees and will host an afternoon program for adults. Sunday is the Bike2Bees Urban Hive Tour from 10:30am-Noon, and the Bee Bazaar Vendor Fair from 1-5pm. In addition, a special Ypsi honey beer, brewed by Arbor Brewing Co., will be available at the Vendor Fair site. We also have a honey harvesting demo at the vendor fair and a raffle with door prizes. The idea behind the raffle is to help make it cheap and easy for people to start out if they’re curious about bees. The complete festival schedule can be found at www.facebook/FestivaloftheHoneyBee.

It sounds like its going to be an amazing event. Is there anything else you want readers to know?

I’m grateful to the community for supporting the work that I do. Folks who are interested in getting involved should email me at festivalofthehoneybee@gmail.com. To everyone who is concerned about bees, please plant bee forage, buy organic, and don’t use yard chemicals! Thank you!



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