Producer Story: The Beez Kneez

Erin Rupp, educator, beekeeper & bicyclist.

Erin Rupp, educator, beekeeper & bicyclist.

The Honey House, Beez Kneez
2204 Minnehaha Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55404


Summer Hours are every Saturday from 3pm-8pm.  

Pick up your Healthy Bees, Healthy Lives yard signs, sample the delicious LOCAL HONEYAPOLIS WILDFLOWER HONEY, learn more about education classes, and try out their pedal-powered honey extractor!

Can you tell me a little bit about the origin of this space?

Kristy Allen started the business in 2010. Her aunt and uncle are commercial beekeepers; they have 1,500 hives in Northern Minnesota and were interested in selling their honey here and asked Kristy if that would be something she'd be interested in. That Halloween dressed up as a honey bee, Kristy would hand out honey samples on her bike also painted as a honey bee and started The Beez Kneez.

We met in 2011 and started doing education work bringing hives into community spaces, working out of both of our homes. After raising $40k last year we were able to open the Honey House, a community bicycled powered extraction facility.

Beekeepers like to say you should be extracting honey in someone else’s kitchen because it is soo sticky. So this is a spot that’s made to be easily cleaned that has all of the equipment you need to do that work. This is where we extract but this is also a service we offer to the growing number of hobby beekeepers in town. This location also serves as an education center.

The Honey House offers a Hot Room rental for faster honey extraction. Check out their website for rental prices and information. 

The Honey House offers a Hot Room rental for faster honey extraction. Check out their website for rental prices and information. 

Bike powered honey extractors at the Beez Kneez Honey House. 

Bike powered honey extractors at the Beez Kneez Honey House. 

How many people make up this organization?

Mainly just the two of us, myself  and Kristy Allen, who started the organization.

This summer we have four interns and volunteers and many other minds and hearts helping and supporting our work. Some are doing graduate research while others are helping to teach.


How did you become involved with this work?

I studied Environmental Studies and Geology at Macalester College. Through some food systems classes I started learning about Agriculture. I started working outside with kids doing actual farming through a couple of different programs. Youth Farm was one of them.

I found my way to the Bell museum (University of Minnesota), doing some insect based education there. Because garden based education in Minnesota means that you are a seasonal worker, I was really looking for something that would pay year round.

I started out beekeeping with just two hives at Burning River Farm, and decided to move the bees down to Osceola to Foxtail Farm where I met Kristy, who had just started The Beez Kneez.

We got talking about education and city hives and I approached Kristy with the idea of teaching people about Bees by putting them in beekeeping suits. Hennepin County supported our work through a grant early on and we started doing work with the Mckinley CSA, working with youth and learning more about bees and tending the bees. It was a great pilot for the work we are now doing.

Why do you do this work?

Bees are wonderful. It’s so fun to hangout with them and see them. Over the winter you actually miss them! We are a bicycle based business and I really love riding my bike too, but the experiential education component is something I really love facilitating.

What are you growing?

Honey is our main thing, and some candles and t-shirts. We have 12 partnered locations and about 65 hives. Scaling up too big is not something we will be doing.

Tell us what are you most proud of this season.

It’s really fun doing this work because my heart is into all of the pieces of it. Honey wise, this year the honey that’s on the table, 55117 (from our hives in Maplewood), is soo tasty.

We are also really excited to be working with a new business, Four Seasons Apiaries that will be breeding queens. I’ve been a beekeeper for about eight years, I’m constantly learning new things.

We’ve also been offering work retreats for the first time that I really enjoy doing.

This year is exciting for us because we have all of our services figured out so we just need to keep doing those things.

In terms of advocacy there is a lot happening.  We went to the Minnesota Honey Producers conference for the third year, talked to a lot of commercial beekeepers about recent laws that have been passed and their feelings about where we can be going forward. Just talking and learning from a lot of those folks who are fourth generation beekeepers has been really fun.

What is the actual season for honey bees?

You are working the bees the same time of the year you are working your farm. It’s basically March through October or November. Honey bees are totally weird in terms of what they do in the winter. They are gathering all of the nectar and evaporating the water out, turning it into honey so they have something to eat in the winter. They can cluster together and shiver and eat that honey all winter. Typically in Minnesota you leave them with a hundred pounds of honey and can take anything above that.

How can people support what you’re doing?

We sell honey sourced from our 65 hives and from larger apiaries in Northern Minnesota. We sell at farmers markets, coops, restaurants, coffee shops, bike stores, some specialty shops and directly out of the Honey House. If you order online from Minneapolis and St.Paul, we will deliver to your door dressed as bees.

We are also doing the Healthy Bees Healthy Lives campaign.  This campaign started out of a pesticide kill that we experienced in the Kenwood neighborhood at our hive located at a school. All of our foraging bees died overnight. That community mobilized around that event and we started this campaign.  We have yard signs to celebrate healthy ecosystems for bees. You can purchase a yard sign from our website and pledge to maintain a chemical free green space.

You can also plant a pollinator-friendly yard, but always ask your nursery, garden center or hardware store if they can guarantee that the plants or seeds you’re buying were not “pre-poisoned” with a systemic pesticide.

The work that you do does make a difference for them. Providing more clean food for them to eat is what bees need right now. They also need broader food systems change so we are working on some legislative changes for bees. You can go to our website for info on more ways to connect as a bee advocate on a larger level.

Taking a class can be a great way to learn about beekeeping and is another way to support our organization. During a class we are putting people in beekeeping suites.  You can learn more about who bees are and what it feels like working with them.

We all know something about bees right? Usually it’s that they sting and that we are kind of scared of them. Putting people in beekeeping suits and being among 50,000 bees is such an empowering experience for people.  Being able to offer that to people is one of my favorite things.

What are the biggest challenges you currently face?

It’s hard to be a bee these days. We are starting this Honeybee education and advocacy at a time when Honey Bees are declining. Beekeepers lose 30-40% of their hives annually.

There are a number of factors causing the bee decline. The root cause is a parasite called the Varroa Mite that sucks their blood. If you don’t manage your colony the Varroa Mite populations will get large enough [and] make your colony too weak to survive through a winter.

Bees also don’t have access to very much food these days. There aren’t many flowers and ecosystems available. And a lot of flowers are treated with different things. There is scientific consensus now around Neonicotinoids Pesticides, a systemic pesticide that is being applied through seed coats, or through injections in nursery plants that only need be applied a single time. Neonicotinoids in high enough doses are acutely poisonous (lethal) to bees. They also have sub-lethel impacts

Neonicotinoids are just one of many different chemicals out there. Bees are going a two three miles radius from their hive picking up all kinds of stuff. There [is] something like 13 different chemicals interacting in a beehive and we don’t know much at all about their toxicities together. There’s more research coming out about fungicides interacting with the yeast in pollen, making it difficult to grow healthy larvae. We are learning more and more about these different chemicals and their impact on insects and bees. We talk so much about honeybees as we work the closest with them, but these chemicals are impacting other pollinators as well.

Bees with a view! Bees being kept across the street at the Growing Lots Urban.

Bees with a view! Bees being kept across the street at the Growing Lots Urban.

What do you think is missing from your community?

We have seen so much support from our communities, to point out some space in which we haven’t felt supported just wouldn’t seem accurate. I don’t know if I would frame it as something that is missing. Communication is often just something that is difficult.

There is a law at the state level that dates back to the late 80s called Preemption, that most states include that says that only the state can regulate everything that has to do with pesticides, and no governing body smaller than the state can make any more stringent regulations. So our ask last year was to devolve preemption and representative Jim Davnie authored a bill that didn’t go very far.  But that would still be one of our asks.

In addition there is also a lack of bee forage. MNdot cuts and sprays roadsides, and these days with farms the way that they are roadsides are one of the only places where there is food for bees anymore.

So if there is a place in legislation where we could request that MNdot not be treating roadsides in the way that they are it would mean there would be more food for bees. 

More broadly as people think about the way they farm, in urban areas we are seeing more systems that support pollinators with flowers.  We are so reliant on honeybees because of monocultures. But pollinators cannot live in conventional farm ecosystems anymore because of the abundance of monocultures. Maybe there are just almonds to eat, or just blueberries to eat and those plants are like any other plant, they have a bloom time and then there’s no flower. So there’s feast-feast-feast and then famine. As beekeepers we can move hives to follow the bloom times, as growers you can plant a variety of flowers and plants that bloom in succession of one another.


What are your sources of inspiration?

Through doing this work, we have met some amazing folks.

Dr. Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota Bee lab, is amazing and runs one of the top three bee labs in the country. She’s been such a friend, consultant and ally in this work. She’s been pretty inspiring. The bees, the beekeepers and the folks who have been doing this a long time and then people who are new to bees and just discovering them.

For me, the broken food system that we live in and all of the ways that it impacts people. The bees are something that people are really caring about right now and maybe they are a tool to mobilize change. That’s really inspiring.  

For someone that has been kind of shy and not that confident in speaking about these things, finding bees and having the story being easy to tell and straight forward when ecosystems can be so complicated, has been really exciting to share with people.

 

What qualities do you think it takes to be a beekeeper?

Questioning, inquiry and Observation. When I first discovered farming I had some frustrations around materials things, when you are tired and move something [and] it breaks, that is really hard. But if you are just picking beets all day some of them are going to break, so just the process and scale and problem solving you need because bad stuff will happen. Caring for another living thing. There are a lot of beekeepers and different ways to keep bees so seeking advice from others and then also trying it out yourself and see what works.

 

The average beehive will produce 150 pounds of honey annually.

The average beehive will produce 150 pounds of honey annually.

What gives you the most hope for the future?

It’s hard to be a bee these days, but there’s a lot of hope and movement around bees.

There really is a lot of hope in bees. They are fuzzy and cute and help us get seeds and fruits, they are a link to the access of healthy nutritious food. For somebody who has been thinking about food systems and food systems being broken for a long time, discovering bees and what a tangible easy teaching tool they are in communicating the ways food systems have been broken is really exciting.

*Check out the Beez Kneez website for a full list of products and locations that sell their honey.

Healthy Bees Healthy Lives yard sign. 

Healthy Bees Healthy Lives yard sign.