Kristy Lynn Allen, owner and founder of The Beez Kneez in Minneapolis, Minnesota first got introduced to beekeeping by way of her uncle, a commercial beekeeper. In an industry largely made up of white men, Kristy is carving her own path as a woman doing business in a way that feels right to her. “My partnerships are not based on geography but on relationships that are important to me,” she says. Regenerative in its own right, but not necessarily “the most efficient business model,” she says.
Kristy didn’t want to become a commercial beekeeper and so started her journey delivering honey on bicycles. Later down the line, Kristy joined up with an educator and together they started a Kickstarter to raise money for what is now the Beez Kneez LLC. Together they taught a beekeeping education program for awhile and then her partner moved on because she wanted to be a nonprofit while Kristy wanted to be a social enterprise to avoid having to continuously write grants. Kristy started a 14-week intensive beekeeping course called Camp Beez Kneez – which runs from April through October – under the guidance of another woman beekeeper for the first year of the program.
As folks participate in the camp throughout the year (and see how beekeeping is a lot more challenging than they anticipated), about half realize that beekeeping is too much for them and the other half are really into it. “It’s cool to watch those beekeepers and that community building,” says Kristy. “They take ownership over that particular hive, without the bees dying at the end of the year, and they get to see realistically what can happen.”
Kristy is proud of the model of city beekeeping she’s engaged in throughout the year because her program “forces those places I partner with to be very cautious of what they’re doing on their landscapes…universities planted way more forage, cut back on their treatments of lawns, even though they still do it, because our culture has a really hard time letting go of this green lawn situation.” While this model has its advantages, it’s hard to gauge why bee declines happen on campus – whether it’s crazy snowstorms or landscapers still treating lawns chemically. She feels bad for the bees that don’t make it through the seasons.
The Beez Kneez has about 150 production hives but a very small amount in the metro area. Kristy keeps only 20 hives on her farm on the border of Wisconsin and Minnesota. In addition to providing education to the community about the importance of bees, Kristy is searching for different angles to approach the bee issue, which “like all environmental issues, highlights how toxic our planet is.”
“As an activist, I’ve been trying to figure out ways to engage not just the people we preach to, but how do we hook ‘em?” says Kristy. During the first year of her campaign “Healthy Bees Healthy Lives,” the Beez Kneez hosted a competition inviting women chefs to a “Dandelion Honey Pastry Chef Challenge.” The competition would draw celebrities – chefs and entertainment alike – as a way to “hook” the community into paying attention to the bee issue. While pastries provided a good hook, Kristy acknowledges that there’s still a class issue within beekeeping because hosting fancy events alone to raise money doesn’t necessarily reach the populations who are typically underrepresented in the industry.
It’s not just the fancy events Kristy struggles with, it’s the state meetings too and conducting business within a largely older white male crowd. Though she doesn’t “fit in” with this crowd or even understand things like how a Trump voter can love bees, she sees an opportunity to make connections across divides but it’s not an easy task. “The fact that we have the bees as a connection is huge [but] what do we do with all these angry white men? If we are really about building community, [how do we bridge that divide?]”