Calendar creator sparks buzz to save bees

Mary Ellen "Mel" Hughes has a simple goal — save the honeybees.

The Asheville entrepreneur had heard about the devastating effects of something called colony collapse disorder, a mysterious affliction that's been killing off honeybees at an alarming rate over the past few years. The implications of the trend — the loss of hundreds of species of critical fruits, flowers and vegetables that bees pollinate — kept her up at night.

Calendar buzz: Mary Ellen Hughes teamed up with artist Jay Pfeil to create a calendar designed to generate funds for research into what's causing the mysterious death of honeybee colonies.

"So I started doing research to see what I could do," Hughes explains. "It turns out there are a lot of things we can do to nurture bees."

One of the simplest is becoming a backyard beekeeper by planting bee-friendly plants. That led Hughes to a 40-page government list of such plants. "I thought somebody ought to illustrate the list" and make it more user-friendly, she says.

Hughes hit on the idea of a calendar and reached out to Black Mountain artist Jay Pfeil. A member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, Pfeil is known for her award-winning, artful depictions of flowers and trees. Her work is on display in a number of galleries, including the Nature Art Gallery at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. Hughes also turned to Martha Dugger, who's done marketing for Biltmore Farms, for help.

The three determined that they could create a high-quality calendar, price it at $20 and turn enough of a profit to donate money toward honeybee research. Hughes says she's working on getting the calendars into independent bookstores and garden shops nationwide. She also plans to make the calendars available to beekeeping clubs at a discount so they can use calendar sales as fundraisers.

The goal is to raise $150,000 for bee research, which would make the project one of the biggest funders of such investigations.

"There's nothing going on out there on this scale," she says, calling it a sad commentary on efforts to save such a critical link in the food production chain.

Hughes envisions a national grass-roots campaign that she hopes will expand to include other products. Plans are already in the works for a 2011 calendar.

Fourth-generation beekeeper James Stafford of Arden says beekeepers welcome the help. "The honeybees' [numbers] are getting thinner," he notes. "Without the honeybee, we wouldn't have the plants and crops we have now."

The calendars, printed by Blue Ridge Printing, will be sold locally at Pura Vida gallery, the Grovewood Gallery, Seven Sisters Gallery in Black Mountain and the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar. Online, the calendars can be found at www.abeeloversgarden.com.

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