The buzz around town

Joan Santo talks bees, murals and community

Posted 5/29/19

If you haven’t noticed by now, this week’s issue of The River Reporter focuses on bugs. There are some scary, life-threatening critters inhabiting the planet with us, there are also some …

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The buzz around town

Joan Santo talks bees, murals and community


If you haven’t noticed by now, this week’s issue of The River Reporter focuses on bugs. There are some scary, life-threatening critters inhabiting the planet with us, there are also some essential to keeping us alive, like honey bees. Because of the rapid decline in their population, scientists are urging we make the changes necessary to avoid their extinction. What can we do—not just on an individual level, but also within our communities? 

 “The festival showed me how, when we all work together, we can have a beautiful town and create something....”

Joan Santo, owner of Narrowsburg Wine and Liquor and Narrowsburg Proper, has a few ideas. One of the founders of the Honey Bee Fest (HBF), Santo is now working to bring artist and activist Matthew Willey’s Good of the Hive Initiative to Narrowsburg and facilitate the painting of a giant bee mural on the side of the post office this July.
At her shop on a Thursday, as she finished unpacking inventory, Santo chatted with customers and paused to ask a couple about renovations on their home. Cultivating community is important to her. 
Before moving to the Upper Delaware region, Santo was a school teacher in Brooklyn, where she grew up. She and her husband Ron owned a second home in Narrowsburg for about 30 years. After retiring, the couple left Brooklyn to move here full time and become entrepreneurs. 

2 Queens Honey raw Catskill wildflower honey on display at Narrowsburg Proper. 

Inspired by their passion for cooking and entertainment, Santo and her husband opened their first business, Narrowsburg Wine and Liquors, six years ago. Their customers kept expressing the need for a place where they could buy cocktail ingredients and artisanal cheeses to pair with wines. Santo and her husband delivered, opening their second business in town, Narrowsburg Proper.
Eager to become more proactive in Narrowsburg, Santo started volunteering with the Narrowsburg Beautification Group (NBG). Through NBG, she was inspired to take classes and attend seminars with the Sullivan Renaissance, where she learned about how planting pollinator-friendly plants would help sustain the honey bee population. Enlightened by the classes, and propelled by the lack of festivals in Narrowsburg at the time, Santo decided to curate an event that would raise awareness and inspire community involvement. 
Santo approached beekeeper and founder of 2 Queens Honey, Charles Wilkin, and his partner, Martin Higgins, in 2015 about organizing the Honey Bee Fest, dedicated to educating the community about bees. Together, they worked to raise funds, find knowledgeable speakers and involve the community in their work. 
“I did it for a few [reasons]: the bees… local businesses and for the local beekeepers,” Santo said.
The Honey Bee Festival, coming up on its fifth year, has significantly increased involvement in the community, according to Santo. “My customers are starting to have hives and make honey. Children are asking questions about what flowers to plant to attract bees.”
In addition to this year’s annual festival, Santo and her event partners, Wilkin and Higgins, have arranged for Matthew Willey to paint a honey bee mural on the side of the post office. Santo discovered Willey through 
Instagram, and immediately took interest in his Good of the Hive Initiative. Through the project, Willey plans to paint 50,000 honey bees—the number required to maintain a healthy hive—in murals around the world to raise awareness about the importance of bees and other pollinators. 
Santo’s friend’s mother lives in the same town in New Hampshire where Willey was when she became interested in hosting his work. 
“I called her up and asked her if she would go talk to him about coming to Narrowsburg,” said Santo, “When he said yes, I was ecstatic.”

The project needed funding. Santo and her co-organizers quickly gained support from the community in donations and grants. The project was approved for the Sullivan County Division of Planning and Community Development’s Plans and Progress Grant of $7,500, and with the donations from the community reaching $12,500, they met their goal.
Willey is set to arrive in Narrowsburg and start painting on July 1. Like Santo, Willey’s initiative is not only to raise awareness about the declining bee population but also to inspire involvement from the community. In addition, Santo is organizing events, including an open mic night, to take place around the project.

Photo provided by Joan Santo
Joan Santo, middle, sporting a bright purple wig, Charles Wilkin, founder
of 2 Queens Honey, left and Martin Higgins, partner and coffee roaster of 2
Queens Honey, right.

“When he comes, he’s interactive. He talks with the kids, he tries to get everyone involved in [the project]… it’s going to be a great community activity,” said Santo. 
Recently, a commenter on one of Santo’s Instagram posts questioned the effectiveness of the mural, claiming that “it might raise awareness, but most people will look at it and walk by.”
Santo’s response offered a different perspective. “This is an organic community project that will educate and connect people that might not be connected,” she said. “Yes, people might walk by, but for those who stop and think, and maybe smell the roses, especially our next generation, that is why we create events and, yes, murals.” 
For Santo, the mural encourages interaction and support within a community that, at times, can be divided. 
 “The festival showed me how, when we all work together, we can have a beautiful town and create something,” she said, “and I think it’s working.” 
A town and its community are similar to a hive and its bees. When a community works collectively to achieve something, that goal is met, and the sense of connection, Santo hopes, causes a ripple effect. 
The Honey Bee Fest will take place on September 28, on Main Street in Narrowsburg. The non-profit, free event is a day of family fun activities, eccentric bee costumes, speakers and, best of all, local honey. 

What can you do to save the bees?

Become a beekeeper. Bee keeping is a fascinating hobby, and one that will help support the populations of honey bees. And the best part is, you will get to eat your own honey. There are courses you can take to help educate and prepare you. For information about online courses, visit In addition, the Wayne County Beekeepers Association meets the first Tuesday of the month at the Wayne County Cooperative Extension at 7:30 p.m., 648 Park St., in Honesdale, PA.

Plant your garden with pollinator-friendly plants. Flowers with large landing pads, such as a perennial salvia, plants with many small flowers, such as sunflowers, plants with hollow stems, such as golden rod or mountain mint. Be sure to have a variety of plants that bloom at different times of the season, so there’s always something for traveling bees. For more information, visit

Buy local honey. Buying local honey helps support the local beekeepers in your area by covering their costs of beekeeping and production.You can find locally produced honey at small, privately owned health food stores or your local farmers’ market. Some local honey providers to look out for are 2 Queens Honey and Catskill Provisions.

Avoid harmful pesticides. Synthetic pesticides, such as Round-Up, fertilizers and herbicides are all extremely harmful to bees. Make your own pesticide with all-natural ingredients that aren’t harmful or toxic to bees. For more information and a list of harmful products to avoid, visit

Let your lawn go. Avoid using a weed-eater and let your lawn, or a patch of it, grow out. Allow dandelions and clover to grow again, as bees thoroughly enjoy them.

Keep a bee garden. Start up a garden with all of the bees’ favorite treats. Plant an array of herbs and flowers, such as mint, lavender and poppies.



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