The Green Scene: From bees to trees

Here comes a different kind of summer swarm: The Beehive Collective — a grass-roots, arts-and-education group based in rural Maine — and a local “hive” called Wezeltown in Old Fort are celebrating their latest campaign through an elaborate storytelling and illustration project. Firestorm Café & Books (48 Commerce St.) will host the release party on Friday, Aug. 6, from 6 to 10 p.m.

Worker bees:  Beehive Collective members Zeph Fishlyn and Beatriz Mendoza address the social politics of coal in an elaborate art and story project. See it Friday, Aug. 6, at Firestorm Cafe and Books. Photo courtesy of the Beehive Collective

Two years in the making, “The True Cost of Coal” is a richly detailed, graphical narrative that explores the story of mountaintop-removal mining and its impacts in Appalachia and beyond, using a 30-by-16-foot banner. The party will feature live music and traditional Appalachian ballads.

Central to the Beehive methodology is a highly collaborative research process. Worker “bees” began by interviewing hundreds of community members about the effects of surface mining on society.

“We feel it’s extremely important to gather our information from those who are most impacted on a daily basis,” explains illustrator Beatriz Mendoza, who’s been living and working on the banner with a team of fellow Beehive Collective members in Old Fort for the past year. “They are the experts on this issue.” Based on those stories, the Bees then weave selected visual metaphors into a graphical “patchwork quilt.”

At the release, the Bees will lead participants in an engaging venture through their larger-than-life banner.

Born to be wild: Young chestnut hybrids — like these at Cataloochee Ranch’s orchard — will hopefully be reintroduced to the wild in 2015, say advocates like ranch owner Judy Coker. Photo courtesy of the American Chestnut Foundation

“The story interweaves anecdotes and statistics that puncture dubious ‘clean coal’ rhetoric,” says collective member Zeph Fishlyn, exposing “the connections between American empire, climate change and resource extraction in the Appalachian Mountains.”

Audience participation is heartily encouraged. “We feel people are visual learners, and that interaction is a learning device,” Fishlyn explains. “You can only absorb so much from the standard, one-way, talking-head-at-the-podium setup.”

None of these worker bees gets paid, but full-time bees have their room and board covered. “We have no queen and make decisions by consensus process,” the collective’s website notes. “The priorities for our work are set by the requests we receive from collaborators, audiences and our advisory bees. [We’re] aiming to stay flexible and organic enough to respond to current events and mass-pollination opportunities.”
Live music at the release party will feature Sara Lynch-Thomason with traditional Appalachian ballads, including coal ballads old and new. For more information, call Beatriz or Zeph at 668-7380, or visit

Cataloochee Ranch Chestnut Saturday celebrates return of the great trees

The American Chestnut Foundation and the Haywood County Garden Club Council invite the public to join them Sept. 11 in celebrating efforts to restore the American chestnut tree.

When the messenger is the message: Check out the work of the Beehive Collective, a grassroots, social-change, arts-and-education group. Photo courtesy of the Beehive Collective

When European settlers first arrived in North America, Castanea dentata was the dominant tree in the Appalachians and beyond, from Maine to Mississippi. The fast-growing, rot-resistant, deciduous hardwood grew to 150 feet in height and 10 feet in diameter. But in the early 1900s, a deadly fungus was inadvertently introduced into the United States, and within 45 years, virtually all the chestnuts — some 4 billion trees — were lost.

Thanks to a robust restoration program, however, hybrid chestnuts are now being planted in the wild. In partnership with various groups, including the Cataloochee Ranch, an American Chestnut Foundation breeding program is producing blight-resistant trees that are adapted to local growing conditions and ready for planting in the Nantahala, Jefferson and Cherokee national forests. Wild planting began in some sites two years ago, with plant material from the Meadowview Research Farm in Virginia, north of Bristol, Tenn.

Think back to your high-school biology class: Using the backcrossing method, researchers are breeding American and Chinese chestnuts to produce trees that are blight-resistant, like the Chinese variety, but still contain 94 to 96 percent of the genes of the original American chestnut.

“Cataloochee Ranch is ideal for growing chestnuts,” notes Paul Sisco, a former foundation staffer who’s now a volunteer. “The high-elevation site is good because chestnuts are susceptible to another introduced pathogen, Phytopthora, that causes root rot — but it can’t survive freezing.”

Now in its fourth growing season, Cataloochee's orchard will be tested in a couple of years for resistance to the blight, and the survivors will be backcrossed again. The trees growing there will be ready for introduction to the wild in 2015, Sisco reports.

Employing art for social change: Discover the work of the Beehive Collective. Photo courtesy of the Beehive Collective

Chestnut Saturday (tickets $10; children 12 and under free) will feature crafts and vendors, live bluegrass and dancing, orchard tours, hiking, horseback riding, fishing, horseshoes, kids' games and wildlife biologist Rob Gudger’s captive wolves.

Also planned is a gala steak dinner ($100 per person or $160 for two, including a one-year membership to The American Chestnut Foundation) with entertainment and a live auction. For dinner reservations, call the Cataloochee Ranch at (828) 926-1401.
To learn more about The American Chestnut Foundation, go to

Susan Andrew can be reached at 251-1333 ext., 153, or at


Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.