Queen of the Bees
Writer / Jennifer Magley
Nestled along the Monon Trail in Broad Ripple, a quiet revolution is taking place. As bikers speed past and couples stroll hand in hand, a figure can be seen among the lush garden across from Public Greens. It is Kate Franzman. Tending four urban garden sites in addition to the greenhouse at the Legacy Center are just a few of her responsibilities as Program Manager for Growing Places Indy.
They zoom around her, the bees, as she stands in front of the hive in the garden, poised to educate the group of adults hanging on her every word and in awe of her calmness. The moment she opens her mouth to speak, it is clear that Franzman is in her element. A third generation gardener and self-described “free range kid,” she was always interacting with nature.
“I’m from Auburn, a very small town in northern Indiana,” she says. “We lived out in the country for most of my childhood. My mom and grandmother had giant gardens and grew their own food. It was a ritual whenever we visited my grandmother to parade around the yard and see how things were doing. Now I do this with my own mother. My grandmother, ‘Nana,’ raised mealworms in her bedroom to feed to the bluebirds outside her window. They’d eat them directly out of her hand.
“Bees were a normal part of nature for me. I was never scared of them. I remember hearing about colony collapse disorder as it started making headlines, so I knew bees were in trouble. I had my first encounter with a beehive when I worked at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. I produced video for them, and we interviewed the beekeeper while he inspected the hive. I was wearing tights and heels, and standing a foot away, I was completely fascinated and only slightly terrified at the time. It’s true what they say about bees and dogs smelling fear. I was cool with them, and they were cool with me.”
Her passion for bees led Franzman to create Bee Public in 2012. Bee Public is a honeybee and pollinator advocacy group that raises awareness about the plight of bees through art, advocacy and action.
“I came up with the concept for Bee Public as an advocacy group when I saw Indianapolis taking the urban homesteading trend and running with it,” says Franzman. “I thought backyard chickens are cool, but what about bees? We really need them, and they’re in trouble. The project morphed from just placing beehives everywhere to being very strategic about it, hence the ‘Public’ in Bee Public. My hives are meant to be seen by as many people as possible.”
Bees are misunderstood creatures, she says. “They pollinate a third of our food. We need them, and we completely disregard and disrespect them. And we fear them. Their societies are incredibly fascinating as well.”
A tireless advocate for bees, she has given over 30 classroom presentations over the last year, educating more than 2,000 children within Indiana. With ease, she tells the adults about the importance of bees: how their colonies pollinate our food, that they literally vote to discern who to trust when two bees return with different route stories and what happens when there is more than one queen born to the hive.
Teaching kids about bees is Franzman’s favorite part of what she does. “I was completely intimidated by it at first, but now it’s 90 percent of what I do and where my heart lies. I get to see kids change their minds about bees and become less scared. I also get to work side-by-side with young people who want to have beehives and tell others about the importance of bees.”
Ever humble, what Franzman does not mention is how her countless hours are translating to policy changes on the local and state level. Uniquely, the advocates that show up to City Hall demanding change are often the students she has spoken to. With the help of Jim Poyser of Earth Charter Indiana and VP of City County Council Zach Adamson, they passed a resolution that lays the groundwork for more bee-friendly legislation.
In April, Mayor Hogsett proclaimed a “Bee-Friendly City Day” and even did a bee “waggle” dance at the Earth Day event with many of the child-activists. “My hope is that Indy will ban neonicotinoids (bee-killing pesticides), and in general, I hope to work more with the City (Mayor’s office, Sustain Indy, DPW) to launch more citywide efforts on behalf of pollinators.”
How can the public help? “First, don’t use pesticides please – synthetic chemicals, herbicides, bug spray, mosquito treatments, Roundup, etc. This stuff all adds up and contributes to Colony Collapse Disorder. It is detrimental to all creatures big and small. Try to find an alternative. Secondly, report swarms of honeybees to a beekeeper, not an exterminator. And finally, plant lots of flowers – it’s bee food – and don’t contaminate them with pesticides/chemicals.”
Wrapping up her talk in front of the hive, it is clear that there is a mutual respect between her and the bees. It is as though they know they are in the presence of their greatest spokesperson, their queen.