Kenny Barrett -- co-founder of GROWHOUSE and programs manager for Roosevelt Row -- is knee-deep in honey. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but he's surely got enough of it to sell, thanks to the hard-working honeybees living behind GROWop, the vintage boutique that shares a formerly blighted, quarter-acre lot with GROWHOUSE, a sustainable, community-based gardening project.
Barrett -- an artist and organizer who calls GROWHOUSE a "public art experiment" dedicated to local food, the handmade movement and community building -- has worn many hats over the past four years, but now he's wearing one of those hooded jobs that goes with a beekeeper's suit. How did he get here? It's an oddball story.
GROWHOUSE got the hive last spring from ASU's East Valley Polytechnic Campus, which maintains 30 hives in its Bee Lab. But the gift-giving was roundabout. See, after a successful community event, a fellow gardener had posted "Let's do bees!" on GROWHOUSE's Facebook page, a message picked up by PBS Minnesota, who produces a science show for kids called SciGirls. PBS approached Barrett about filming the show, which would involve experiments with bees, at the nearby Phoenix Union Bioscience High School.
GROWHOUSE already has a relationship with the school through its Farm Truck program, where high school students bring a garden -- planted in the back of a pick-up truck -- to elementary schools to teach kids about gardening. Barrett got involved and the deal was struck.
After the show, GROWHOUSE received the bee hive, the boxes that would be their home, beekeeping tools, two beekeeping suits and a crash course in beekeeping. Barrett says the bees only need tending about once a week, but he's training others to learn how to check the hive and extract the honey, which requires smoking the hive to calm the bees. Although he says beekeeping seems pretty low-maintenance so far, he also notes there's a book called The Beekeeper's Bible that's two and half inches thick and weighs a ton.
Until GROWHOUSE can afford a centrifuge, the bottled honey it's selling has beeswax in it, which can easily be removed by straining the honey through cheesecloth. The honey is being sold both at GROWop and at the Phoenix Public Market in jars that come in three sizes: 4 ounces, $4; 8 ounces, $7; 16 ounces, $10.
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