The local food movement continues to grow, with an increasing number of people raising their own food or visiting their town’s farmers markets. In many cities, this trend has grown to include local honey, and one project in Minneapolis and St.Paul, Minn. seeks to provide the community with products and education.
The Beez Kneez is an endeavor of two women, Erin Rupp and Kristy Allen, who want to teach people about the importance of bees. For the past year, they’ve been gathering honey produced at hives around the Twin Cities and delivering it to their buyers, all by bicycle.
“Right now the demand for our honey is higher than our capacity,” Erin Rupp told Earth911. Currently, the Beez Kneez delivers raw, local honey to over 150 homes, two farmers markets, three Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs and 20 businesses. Rupp and Allen hope to expand their project, and to do so have launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to establish a “Honey House.”
“We’re looking for a space to lend logistical support to the business, to have a space to extract and bottle honey of our own, and a space for community beekeepers around the Twin Cities to do the same. It would be a community center for bees.”
Why Bees Are Important
Although you may not think much about them, bees are an integral part of the food-growing system. To have a successful garden, you need bees to pollinate many of your plants, including cucumbers, squash, raspberries and plenty of others. They pollinate an impressive third of the food we eat. The problem, Rupp explained, is that bees are dying, and beekeepers lose 30-40% of their hives each year.
Bees are affected by the way food is grown, which can create challenges for beekeepers. “We have these huge monocultures of almonds, say, and all those plants bloom at the same time,” Rupp said. “There’s so much food [for the bees] for a month and then when that bloom is off there’s no food at all. Then all the pollinators in that ecosystem aren’t supported.” Sometimes this means beekeepers have to move their bees.
The bee’s role in their ecosystem is important and there is no way to easily mechanize it. Rupp and Allen want people to know about the importance of bees, so they use part of the proceeds from their honey to educate the community through their Community Bees on Bikes outreach program. Currently, they teach experiential education classes to the public at the gardens, parks and schools where their hives are located, and over 150 people attended their classes last year. Some of those people were on field trips or with birthday parties or even, on occasion, on dates. With the Honey House, the Beez Kneez hopes to expand their reach.
What Makes the Honey House Unique
The Beez Kneez belongs to a strong urban agriculture community, so their dozen hives are housed at community areas throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul. Once Allen and Rupp collect honey from the hives, it needs to be extracted, which usually involves using centrifugal force – or spinning the honey – and allowing it to drip off of frames.
Hobby beekeepers who do this at home use hand crank extractors, and industrial beekeepers use electric extractors, but the Beez Kneez has an original machine to help them with the process; a bike extractor.
“We wanted a sustainable way to extract honey on a larger scale, so we have one of these cycles and we have plans for four more,” Rupp said. The bicycle extractor was designed by a friend of Rupp and Allen, and it allows for human-powered extraction. “Neighborhood folks can take a spin class or bring their friends to extract their honey.”
All of this could be done at home in a kitchen, but the Honey House will function as a community center that provides more space for the Beez Kneez as well as for education.
Once the honey is extracted, Rupp and Allen deliver it by bee-themed bicycle (with yellow and black decorations) to people in the Minneapolis-St.Paul metro area, eliminating carbon emissions from the process. To date, they have biked over 4000 miles delivering honey. As the project grows, they may bring in interns or volunteers to help with delivery.
How You Can Get Involved
If you’re interested in learning more about urban beekeeping and local honey, Rupp recommends investigating hobby beekeeping groups in your area with a simple internet search. These groups exist all over the country, and many of them are tied to universities. The Beez Kneez works closely with the Bee Lab at the University of Minnesota. There are plenty of books out there about beekeeping as well, including “Beekeeping in Northern Climates”.
“There’s so much knowledge about beekeeping,” Rupp said. “Humans have a relationship with bees that is longer than their relationship with any other animal.”
To learn more about the Beez Kneez Honey House project or to donate to the campaign, which runs through March 31, visit the group’s Kickstarter campaign page.
Want to learn more about urban agriculture? Read: Tour de Coops Teaches Residents to Raise Backyard Chickens