In Minneapolis, This Beekeeper Is Building an Unusual (and Thriving) Honey Business

Kristy Allen's The Beez Kneez maintains hives, sells honey and teaches beekeeping -- all while advocating on behalf of endangered bees.

By Christina Kelly

Related Article: This Minneapolis Beekeeper Is Building a Thriving Business

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Kristy Lynn Allen – Founder + CEO – The Beez Kneez

Kristy I can’t remember how much of our prairie has disappeared since monocultures and, and pesticides started to be used on a much larger scale. Bees are insects. So if you spray a crop and a bee gets exposed to it or if it gets in the water or onto other plants you have a big problem.

Kristy The Beez Kneez is a local beekeeping organization that is pedal-powered both in honey delivery and honey extraction. We teach intensive beekeeping classes. We rent out our honey house to beekeepers. We sell beekeeping equipment and we do advocacy and education around bees.

TEXT Kristy grew up on the outskirts of Sauk Rapids, Minnesota.

Kristy Growing up I really enjoyed swimming, and camping, and, and being outside, and then I saw the town change dramatically from, you know, a lot of that open prairie or, or traditional farms to big box stores or strip malls.

TEXT After high school, Kristy was eager to see the world.

TEXT She grabbed an opportunity to teach English in China.

Kristy I took out a loan and went to China for three weeks and it changed my life. It just opened my eyes to how big the world was.

TEXT When Kristy returned home she began a degree in global studies at the University of Minnesota.

Kristy I started working in restaurants and then gradually finished my degree but it took a while because I, I was sort of addicted to traveling and I kept taking trips. I felt like I was learning a lot more that way about myself and the world than I was in school.

TEXT Kristy finally graduated in 2008. She worked on a farm and began to learn about beekeeping.

Kristy When I was being educated about bees someone once said, “You know a real beekeeper because they lean in instead of cower back,” right. And I immediately leaned in. I was just, the smell, the taste of real honey and the sound, you know, they’re buzzing all the time and it’s, it’s very meditative and you have to be present with bees.

TEXT In 2009 Kristy’s aunt and uncle, who run a commercial beekeeping operation, asked her to sell their honey in Minneapolis.

Kristy I was like, “It’s close to Halloween. I should paint my bike like a bee and dress up like one and hand out honey samples.” So on Halloween I, I did that. I actually started by delivering to people’s doors. And in an age of technology where there’s always a screen in front of who we’re interacting with I was really thirsty for, “Who’s my community? Who are these people? Let’s talk about bees,” and it worked.

TEXT Kristy started Beez Knees in 2010.

Kristy I think the, the hardest challenge for me was figuring out the model and the financial model. And, and I mean as any business owner, it’s a perpetual challenge. But your livelihood being dependent upon something that is dying or struggling to survive, it’s a pretty big gamble you’re taking.

TEXT Bees pollinate one-third of the world’s crops and most wild plants.

TEXT But bee populations everywhere are collapsing.

SOT Let’s see if we can find the queen. She’s right there. And you’ll see bees following her around. She’s got her own little contingent.

Kristy Bees used to make 100 to 300 pounds of honey per hive and now they make 40 to 60. One of the things really impacting bee health is the overuse and misuse of pesticides. They impact the bees’ ability to forage. They forget what they’re doing, they forget to feed their young and then the entire colony is in trouble.

TEXT Kristy has taken business courses, consulted with advisors and used a Kickstarter campaign to build Beez Kneez.

TEXT She has developed pedal-powered honey extractors that local beekeepers rent or buy.

SOT It’s like a washing machine. The centrifugal force pulls the honey out of the cone. There’s a filter built inside the machine so the really, like, huge benefit of this machine is that it filters while you’re extracting honey.

TEXT Kristy and her staff run classes throughout the year.

Kristy My role in the company is, is changing. As I get older I can’t be hauling as much honey around on my bicycle. I hope it grows to a point where it can sustain itself and, and continue to do really good work with community.

TEXT Beez Kneez earns about $200,00 a year, enough to support herself and her small staff.

Kristy We have a political environment that is not friendly to the environment. But we as consumers have a ton of power and it’s the only power that we seem to have right now and, and so using it wisely, supporting small businesses, small beekeepers, farmers that are growing food in, in a sustainable manner, that’s number one.

SOT So this is this year’s harvest. So it’s going to be a little bit different than what he was getting, but it’s super delicious and drizzles real nice.

Kristy Number two is we’re not involved in our political system nearly enough. Pick something that really matters to you, planting flowers is a very simple thing that lots of people can do. Remember, “If you’re not at the table you’re on the menu.”

Posted: January 30, 2018

Christina KellyIn Minneapolis, This Beekeeper Is Building an Unusual (and Thriving) Honey Business