It’s OK to Have Hives
Mark Randall, otherwise know as the founder of World Studio in New York City, Design Ignites Change and SVA’s IMPACT!, is also a beekeeper—and not just in upstate New York. He kept bees on the roof of the AIGA headquarters on Fifth Avenue before it moved downtown. Bees are all the buzz these days, so I asked Mark …
How did you become a beekeeper? My uncle introduced me to beekeeping. He taught high school physics and would spend his summers in Vermont, growing raspberries and blueberries and keeping bees. Sixteen years ago, when my partner Andy and I bought an old chicken farm in upstate New York, I wanted a weekend agricultural activity. I am no gardener but the idea of keeping bees appealed to me. Not only did I like honey, I was fascinated by the complex world of an apiary.
How far have you taken this avocation as a vocation? Initially, I just shared honey with family and friends. Occasionally, I’d package some up and sell it in a local shop. For many years Andy and I would have an annual ice cream social; I’d make a range of flavors and honey was by far the favorite. I’d substitute wildflower honey for refined sugar in the recipe. The honey my hives produce is very dark—like molasses—and imparts a rich caramel flavor.
Last fall, our local town of Narrowsburg had a honeybee festival. With the help of friends at Early Bird Cookery, we sold my honey ice cream. The feedback was so positive I decided to develop B-Line Ice Cream.
You’ve created graphics—have you had much buzz about the business? Of course, being a designer the first thing I did was develop my brand. I knew I wanted a friendly bee so I enlisted the help of longtime Worldstudio collaborator Matthew Goodrich to create the logo. The typeface United perfectly mirrors the shape of honeycomb.
This summer I have been testing the concept with pop-up ice cream stands and I’ve had many happy customers. I have no idea where it will lead. The question I ask myself is, how can I support local beekeeping and promote and celebrate honey? My grand vision is to establish a large apiary in the Catskills to harvest pure wildflower honey, which I can turn into the best ice cream you have ever tasted.
You had some hives on the old AIGA headquarters roof. This may be like asking about the birds and bees, but how does it work?
In 2010, New York City legalized beekeeping within city limits. There were always a few beehives tucked away, overlooked by the NYC Department of Health. Once they lifted the ban, urban beekeeping blossomed.
I wanted a location for a city hive and I knew that the old AIGA building on Fifth Avenue and 21st Street had installed a green roof. I pitched the idea to Ric Grefé, the executive director, and he agreed—provided I could get buy-in from a very reluctant staff. So, I put together a presentation on beekeeping to assuage fears and sweetened the deal with some honey. I had the hive on the roof for three summers. A diversity of flowers in the city gave the AIGA honey a complex floral taste.
There seems to be a shortage of bees in the Northeast. Are you finding this a problem?
In 1947, there were 6 million hives in the US. In 2008, there were 2.7 million. Over the last winter 44% of the hives were lost. It’s a combination of many things, among them disease, mites and pesticides. Beekeeping can be a challenge, with good years and bad. It’s great that beekeeping has become so popular—a world without bees would be sad indeed. Seventy out of the top 100 food crops are pollinated by bees.
It’s one thing to be stung in the design business, but how do you avoid it in bee land?
I’ve been stung by both clients and bees. Because I have been stung so many times—by bees—I developed an allergy. When I was taken to the emergency room after a severe reaction, the doctor said that I should find another hobby … because I could have died. Undeterred, I now get regular allergy shots. I have yet to develop a severe allergy to clients but some days I feel like I might.
I’m not trying to bee-little this endeavor, but should designers start a bee-keeping organization like the AIBEEA? One of the more impressive aspects of a beehive is how they all work together for the common good. It is the single driving force behind the life of the colony.
A hive is a complex system that runs without the benefit of leadership. The bees have specific assigned tasks, which evolve over their relatively short lives. There are nurse bees, bees that clean, funerary bees that remove other dead bees and bees that collect pollen and nectar. The queen is really no more than an egg-laying slave; she does not govern the hive. It is selfless, collective common purpose, which unites the colony.
Bees are also amazing designers. The structure of honeycomb is a feat of precision, engineering and strength. In the natural world bees build comb into some of the most beautiful shapes to rival any building by Frank Gehry. It’s kind of utopian sounding, right? Thousands of designers, all living in perfect harmony for the common good.
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