Washburn artists and gallery owners John and Susan Lince-Hopkins are embarking on an effort to help save the Bay Area’s bees.
On land they own next to their Artists on the Byway gallery on Bayfield Street in Washburn, they have established a bumblebee art garden, combining the flowering plants beloved by the fuzzy flyers with artworks and conservation information about the species of bumblebees to be found in northern Wisconsin.
“There are parts of the world where bumblebees have totally disappeared from,” John said. “There are eight states that they are now totally gone. In other places they are down by 80 to 90%. If we are going to have lots of tree crops like apples, plums and even currants and cranberries, we need to have pollinators, and the main pollinator here in the Bayfield Peninsula is the bumblebee.”
Bumblebee and honey bee populations have been in steep decline around the world as climate change, habitat loss, pathogens and parasites, and the overuse of pesticides and herbicides have decimated them. John Lince-Hopkins said bumblebees have been on the American continent for over 100 million years, and are not only incredibly important to the economy, but provide a sense of gentle beauty that would be sorely missed if they were to vanish.
“We were aware that there are lots of environmental projects and places to see in the whole area,” Susan Lince-Hopkins said. “We realized if we focused on bumblebees, we could make use of this piece of land that was here in the public eye to advertise both the need for protecting bees, as well as the fact that we want art to be all over Washburn.”
The garden sits on a plot of land between the gallery at 406 W. Bayfield St. and the Washburn Post Office. It will be open from May through November and is free and open to the public. It features artwork from schoolchildren as well as by John Lince-Hopkins, and many flowering plants known to be favorites of bumblebees. Benches are scattered across the park to allow people to stroll through the grounds, stop and reflect, and to enjoy the artwork.
Among the bumblebee-centered works are drawings and hangings created by students at South Shore Elementary School. Kathy Irwin, a visual art teacher at the school, said her students researched how to draw plants and bees, and the importance of bees as pollinators, before creating their art.
“We wanted them to understand the importance of bees in the world and that art has a powerful influence in transferring ideas to the public,” she said. “The children were excited because they see these plants and bees all the time, and to dive in deeper and learn about them was a great experience. Then to see their art displayed in public is a neat thing. Having art displayed this way is really special.”
One of the students whose art is on display is Addi Warren, 11, of Washburn. She said the loss of bumblebees is a critical situation.
“They are good for the environment. They help us with lots of things, and they are very beautiful,” she said.
Warren said she studied bumblebees flitting around a raspberry bush in her garden to create her painting.
“I saw a lot of bumblebees flying in and out and I just figured I would sit there and draw one of them,” she said.
The bumblebee garden was partially funded through a grant from the Washburn Community Education Foundation, Susan Lince-Hopkins said. She and John plan to have educational sessions at the site next summer.
“It was a chance to put in children’s art as a way of saying that children are the voice of the future. It is their voice that is going to matter,” she said.
Cooking has always been a part of Chuck Houle’s life.
“As soon as I could reach the knobs on the stove, I had to learn how to cook,” he said.
His drive to saute, braise and broil stayed with him throughout his service with the Wisconsin National Guard. After he left the military, he began operating a catering service for snack food maker Jack Link of Minong.
But he always wanted his own food business — and he recently got a step closer to achieving that when he and seven other veterans graduated from the Ashland Area Development Corp.’s Ready-Vet-Grow entrepreneur training program.
The 10-week course was offered free for veterans seeking to go into business for themselves. It gave training on how to write a business plan, included discussions about bookkeeping, business taxes and marketing.
Participants were offered mentoring by veterans who had previously taken the course and are now operating their own businesses.
The program concluded last week with a celebration for graduates. The event included a feast of barbequed ribs and pulled pork, courtesy of Houle. It’s the same food he plans for his new business, a food truck that will be the flagship of his venture, Simply Barbeque.
“In the past, my cooking has been mainly just for family, but now I am going to expand it and bring it out to the community,” the Mellen vet said.
Houle plans to capitalize his new enterprise with a lot of sweat equity. He has bought a used delivery truck and is repurposing it with a portable kitchen setup. Once that is done and he obtains the appropriate licenses and permits, he will hit Ashland and Mellen, serving savory barbequed food to a hungry public.
Houle said the course was a crucial element in opening the business.
“It’s given me the tools to succeed,” he said. “Tools I would have never known about unless you came across it and ended up failing because of it. This is going to help us not to fail, to succeed. I’ve learned about a lot of things I might not have thought about when starting a business. It has opened my eyes in the direction I need to go.”
That is exactly what the course was designed to do, AADC Executive Director Carver Harries said.
“We have a significant population of veterans in Ashland and Bayfield counties, who have skills they obtained during their military service that make them some of our most successful entrepreneurs. By giving them training, by providing mentorship from fellow veterans and by giving them startup funds to be able to execute their business plans, we know that they will have a higher success rate than non-veteran-owned businesses when they start up,” he said.
The program was funded with $100,000 from the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs. Most of the funding was used to provide grants for the start-ups to purchase equipment, tools, inventory and to do marketing for the new enterprises.
Harries agreed that training in the nuts-and-bolts of business ownership and operations was important in helping the vets avoid common pitfalls of new entrepreneurs. But the advice given by fellow veterans who have already gone down the path of business ownership was just as valuable, he said.
“The veterans who are the new entrepreneurs and the veterans who are the mentors form relationships that don’t end just because the program is over,” he said.
Scott Weber of Ashland, owner of Window Lickery Cannery, a company that cans produce it grows, was one of the mentors. He went through the program in 2019 and has returned to offer guidance to fellow vets about making their businesses work.
“I found that when you are sitting in this course and you are talking to someone who has been there before you, it’s helpful,” Weber said. “Everyone has something to share, and your fellow veterans will give you their share of experiences. If I can share one of my failures, they won’t make the same mistake.”
Mary Kolar, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, attended the graduation and said the program is important for veterans.
“It is a shining example of how best to support the dreams of entrepreneur veterans,” she said. “The Badger state is home to more than 55,000 veteran-owned businesses. These businesses report more than $20 billion in annual sales and employ more that 110,000 people. It is also worth noting that more than 10% of Wisconsin veterans are self-employed.”
While the statistics of veteran business ownership are impressive, the individual dreams of the hopeful business owners are what really mattered to course participants.
“I wanted to reconnect with the cooking I used to help my grandmother with when I was younger,” said National Guard veteran Jake Deragon of Odanah. “It started with dumplings, and I’m into gourmet food now. This course has opened my eyes to the things out there that can help entrepreneurs.”
Deragon, who plans a food business called Glizzy’s, said it was especially helpful to be in a business development course made up of fellow veterans.
“We speak the same language. It’s heartwarming to see that we are still fighting. We don’t quit,” he said.
Two Bay-Area organizations are going green as Ashland’s Chequamegon Food Cooperative and Washburn’s Northern Lights Services are constructing solar power arrays at their locations.
Northern Lights, a nursing and assisted-living facility, plans to add a 120-kilowatt solar panel installation on its property, while the Co-Op has contracted to build a 64.8-kilowatt system on the roof of its downtown Ashland building.
The Northern Lights project will cost about $174,000, to be installed by Next Energy Solution of Shell Lake with assistance by Cheq Bay Renewables of Bayfield. The Co-Op plan will cost about $130,000 and is to be built by Solar CBI of Ashland. Both projects will begin in the fall and will use high-efficiency arrays capable of producing electricity from both sides of each solar panel.
“It is really to set an example about green energy and a vision towards moving away from fossil fuels,” said Chequamegon Co-Op Marketing and Member Services Manager Sara Beadle. “It is part of our co-op model to be environmentally conscious, and it’s another step in that direction, another way the community can see us as a leader, where we can be an example to other businesses.”
Mark Ehlers, treasurer of Northern Lights Services, said investing in solar energy makes good business sense.
“Costs are always continuing to go up, and we’ve always had troubles with staffing because you have a limited amount of money, so whatever we can do to reduce our operating costs is going to do nothing but help,” he said. “This will allow us to put additional money into other projects.”
Cheq Bay Renewables estimates that the Northern Lights project will pay for itself in about four and a half years. After that, savings on the costs of electricity will go back to Northern Lights.
Cheq Bay Renewables President Bill Bailey said Northern Lights could expect to save about $14,180 in the first year on its utility bills.
The organization is also saving a large sum on the cost of building the solar system.
The project received a grant for half the cost of the solar panels, worth about $36,800, from Solar for Good, an arm of RENEW Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization that promotes renewable energy in the state.
In addition, Nokomis Energy, a Minneapolis-based energy developer that aims to accelerate clean-energy expansion, has agreed to cover 20% of the cost of solar panels. The project will take advantage of a Focus on Energy special-sector incentive of $34,000. Another Focus on Energy program, the Save to Give Program, will provide an additional $2,200.
Bailey said several local donations to the effort have totaled $8,634, reducing the up-front cost of the solar project to just over $66,000.
At the Co-Op, moving forward with the project marks the culmination of efforts over several years to add solar panels.
“After several profitable years, we have been able to prioritize investing in solar,” said Beadle.
The store has been seeking outside funding to help pay for the project, applying for a USDA Rural Energy For America Program grant as well as seeking Focus on Energy Credits. It is awaiting decisions on both.
Craig Buttke and his partner Katie Buttke own and operate Solar CBI, recently moving the business to Ashland from Amherst. He plans to hire a number of workers for the Co-Op project. The company is involved in five solar projects and have done work for the town of La Pointe and worked on the Ashland County Courthouse solar project.
Craig Buttke said the Co-Op project will provide about 25% of the building’s electricity, giving the project a seven-year payback on investment.
But it is not just about saving money, said Bailey.
“The other important aspect is emission reduction,” he said. “Putting in these solar panels as an alternative to burning fossil fuels to generate electricity will reduce carbon emissions, the air will be cleaner. We all need clean air as much as possible.”