The Art of Good Honey... and Helping Bees Thrive in South Africa!
Photo Cred: Willowdale Honey House

A Stanford-based honeybee sanctuary has teamed up with South African artists to encourage mindful food consumption.


South Africa (29 April 2021) – When Chris Oosthuizen, founder of the new Honeybee Heroes bee sanctuary at the Overberg’s Willowdale Farm, opened a bottle of wine with artist friends Janko de Beer, Riaan van Zyl and Lionel Smit, the busy whirr of a honeybee wasn’t the kind of buzz they had in mind.

But over the next few hours, the four friends wouldn’t be able to stop talking about one thing: the importance of the honeybee in South Africa’s—and the world’s—ecosystems and the frustrating inaccessibility of healthy, homegrown South African honey in local shops. Inspired by Chris’ new honeybee conservation initiative Honeybee Heroes, the artists decided that they wanted to help share the news about South African honey with their communities by doing what they do best: creating art.

That’s when they came up with #HoneyisArt, a collaborative project showcasing local artists’ work on limited-edition Honeybee Heroes honey bottles. The goal? To help educate South African consumers about the honeybee while encouraging them to buy local, be more mindful about their food purchases and seek to understand the practices behind their produce.

What’s the buzz?

Thanks to Chris’ Honeybee Heroes sanctuary—located in the Overberg’s picturesque town of Stanford—anyone can help save the honeybees.

When you adopt a hive, Chris and his team will set up a brand-new hive with your name on it in an ideal location for a new bee colony to build its home. In return, you’ll get six jars of raw, local honey, plus the opportunity to visit the sanctuary, gear up in a beekeeping suit and join the Honeybee Heroes team in learning all about your new hive. You can taste honey of varying flavour profiles, colours and textures harvested fresh from hives all over the farm, naturally flavoured by the bees’ frequent trips to nearby eucalyptus trees, lavender fields, fynbos and more. And once a colony settles into your hive, you can buy your hive’s honey at a discount to share with your friends and family.

The Art of Good Honey... and Helping Bees Thrive in South Africa!
Photo Cred: Willowdale Honey House

Founded just last year, Honeybee Heroes already has almost 250 active hives, with another 50 adoptions on the way in the next month. Chris hopes to hit 1 000 active hives by the end of 2021, located both on Willowdale Farm and in other carefully selected areas deemed suitable for the bees. And with an extraction plant and bottling factory both nearing completion, the team at Willowdale Farm will be able to process up to 4 000 bottles of natural honey every single day. 

That’s a whole lot of homegrown South African honey hitting the local market, but for Chris, it’s all about helping the bees thrives, and he’ll be following beekeeping best practices to a tee to make sure that each hive is happy, healthy and undisturbed. He’s also inviting existing beekeepers in the area to come to learn more about sustainable bee practices from his team, even offering them the opportunity to make use of his extraction facilities at no cost. 

“We’re not there to make money,” Chris says, “which makes a difference because we can do things the right way. And that’s a huge privilege.” 

Chris has been blown away by the community response to the Honeybee Heroes project so far. “People have jumped on board, right from the start,” he says. “We’ve got so much momentum—so much potential for real impact—because we have amazing people saying, ‘This is great, what can I do to help?’” 

And that’s exactly what happened with Janko de Beer, Riaan van Zyl and Lionel Smit, three Pretoria-born artists who are helping Chris raise awareness about the bees by creating their own personalised labels. 

Project collabeerators

Janko De Beer, a sculptor, painter and a longtime friend of Chris, was the first artist to contribute a label for the project. The bee sketched on Janko’s labels may look familiar to those who know him best: it’s also on his hand, tattooed there many years prior. 

This isn’t the first eco-minded undertaking for the two friends, who previously climbed Everest and hiked the Appalachian Trail and much of the Kruger National Park together. But in Honeybee Heroes, Janko and Chris finally found the opportunity to leverage both of their professions to pursue a greater goal: the preservation of the planet’s most important pollinator. Besides designing a label, Janko has also teamed up with Honeybee Heroes to launch a new initiative called Bees for Trees, which uses honeybee hives to protect vulnerable tree species from elephants. The project was inspired by Chris’ recent visit to Janko’s home in the Umbabat Private Nature Reserve.

The Art of Good Honey... and Helping Bees Thrive in South Africa!
Photo Cred: Willowdale Honey House
The Art of Good Honey... and Helping Bees Thrive in South Africa!
Photo Cred: Willowdale Honey House
The Art of Good Honey... and Helping Bees Thrive in South Africa!
Photo Cred: Willowdale Honey House

For Riaan van Zyl, another Pretoria-born artist based in Riebeek Kasteel, his art has always featured an environmentally conscious bent, even going so far as using recycled car oil from the local mechanic as paint. Riaan’s large-scale art pieces centre around themes of movement and motion, and he’s long been inspired by bees’ busybodies, having previously worked on beeswax sculptures and even sketches of honeycomb and hives. He even keeps a Honeybee Heroes beehive at his studio.

Riaan was excited to have an opportunity to contribute to Chris’ new project.

“Chris’ passion, vision and caring are in everything he does,” Riaan says.

Lionel Smit is a renowned portrait artist, sculptor and printmaker based in Somerset West. A lifelong artist, Lionel has frequently been involved in animal rights art projects, including collaborations with WildAid, the World Wildlife Fund and PETA.  But, Lionel says, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought collaboration to the very forefront for his work.

“Collaboration was the word for 2020,” he says. “People have realized that we need to help each other.” That’s especially the case with Honeybee Heroes, which Lionel says “feels like one of those projects where everyone wins. It has such a positive impact on everyone involved: us artists, the community, and, of course, the bees.”

Lionel intends to continue being an outspoken advocate for the bees long after his collaboration with Honeybee Heroes is complete because, as he says, “when you donate to something, you feel you start to belong.”

Lionel, too has set up a honeybee hive at his studio and is excited to learn more about keeping bees himself.

Although their labels are complete, the group is in the midst of brainstorming interactive installations for the farm’s growing sculpture garden, which already features pieces from Janko and Riaan. 

The hive keeps growing

But these three artists are just the beginning of #HoneyisArt. After seeing the response to the first limited-edition labels, Chris has decided to expand the collaboration to include many more prominent and emerging South African artists. To do so, he’s teamed up with an organisation in Cape Town called Artist Admin, which has helped him identify ten local visual artists and designers— including Lucie de Moyencourt, Dayfeels, Jean de Wet, Lisa Nelson, Sujay Sanan, Libby Bell and more—to produce their own original honey labels. Chris plans to give the artists the creative freedom to contribute within their own means and mediums, adapting the bottles to best suit the art he receives. 

And what’s in it for the artists? Exposure to Chris’ buzzing Honeybee Heroes community, plus their own supply of raw, local honey to enjoy, each featuring their personal label.

Chris plans to runs a small, limited-edition retail line of all the original labels at the end of the year. He also plans to host a live auction at the farm, featuring collectors’ boxes that include a bottle from each artist’s line. All Honeybee Heroes supporters will be invited, and proceeds will go directly to setting up new sanctuary hives in the Overberg and beyond.

Of the exciting new project, Chris says, “The idea is to turn a bottle of honey into art itself. Because, at the end of the day, that’s what honey is: nature’s art.”

To keep up to date on all things Honeybee Heroes or to adopt a hive, visit the Honeybee Heroes site or follow the farm on Instagram.

Sources: SarahBelle Selig
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Brent Lindeque is the founder and editor in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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