The buzz on the Bee Project: good kids, good cause

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

The three girls from Mattawan hope to beautify the world and help save the planet from mass starvation, which are both good things.

Plus, says Cara Copenhaver, "It's been fun. We've had a lot of sleepovers." That's good, too.

Mattawan sits about 15 miles southwest of Kalamazoo by road or 12 as the bee flies. We'll use bees instead of crows because they're the focus of the venture that Cara, Meghan Reiman and Mya Hoke put together for their physics class at Mattawan High School.

Any number of high school juniors are creating any number of projects at any given time, of course, and many of them are more complex than what the three friends are calling the Bee Project.

But simplicity can be worthwhile, too, as are creativity, nerve and a sense of adventure.

So the kids building a particle accelerator someplace are not in the newspaper today, but the Bee Project is, helping create a little buzz for the three-day Novi Home & Garden Show this weekend at the Suburban Collection Showplace.

It's about a two-hour, 15-minute drive from the Garden Griddle restaurant in Mattawan (population 1,997) to the garden show (expected population 13,000).

Cara, Meghan and Mya will make the trip with two moms and a big sister, and at least some combination of them will be on hand Friday and Saturday, selling their contribution to the future of the Earth:

Little plastic bees with packets of seeds inside.

Bee happy

The yearlong assignment from teacher Ben Tomlinson was to help solve a global problem.

Cara and Mya, who bonded their first day as freshmen, and Meghan, who they grew close to this year, joined forces and quickly came up with ...

Well, nothing.

"We had some really weird ideas," says Cara, including a paint that changed colors. They had to say something the day their proposal was due, so they were in front of the class sputtering unconvincingly about solar-powered hearing aids when inspiration finally hit her.

She was raised on her grandparents' fruit farm and had just read an article about honeybees, who according to most bee-tracking sources have had a rough decade.

Pesticides and habitat loss have decimated many bee populations, and if you're a fan of food, that's a bad thing, since bees pollinate much of what we and other creatures eat.

It was Meghan and Mya, says Cara, who largely figured out how her initial notion could become a product.

Buy yellow plastic Easter eggs online. Also online, buy seeds for seven types of flowers bees are particularly fond of, including columbines, cosmos, daisies and snapdragons.

Form an assembly line while watching Disney movies and laughing frequently. Put seeds in tiny bags affixed with growing instructions. Use electrical tape for the bees' black stripes. Affix card-stock wings and plastic eyes. Grab a Sharpie and add a perky smile.

Retail value: $2. Value to replenishing habitats: Ask a happy bee.

Ready to roll

The Bee Project alit in Novi because the girls couldn't find early-spring garden shows close to home. Expecting rejection, Cara emailed director Rosalie Lamb, whose 10-by-10-foot display booths rent for $1,295.

Lamb was entranced.

"They're wonderful," she says of the girls. "We think young people who take an interest outside their own gaming and themselves should be rewarded."

The Bee Project has run into a supplier issue — the last shipment of plastic eggs included 187 bottoms without tops — but the team still hopes to have 700 finished products at its donated space in the Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association booth.

A sellout, after they repay their parents for the supplies, should leave them with about $1,200 to donate to a conservation group called HoneyLove. It should also leave them with a pretty good grade.

Anything less than an A, in fact, would probably sting.


Novi Home & Garden Show

Location : Suburban Collection Showplace, 46100 Grand River Ave., Novi.

Hours : 2-9 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets : Adults $10, seniors $9, 12-and-under free. (Parking not included.)

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