Finding Meaning in Keeping Bees for Honey and Handmade Goods
You could call Erik and Rachael Messner a little old-fashioned, and they’ll probably take it as a compliment.
As a young married couple, they took a chance and requested a slightly unorthodox Christmas gift from Erik’s grandparents: a beehive. Already into urban gardening and raising chickens, becoming beekeepers seemed like a natural trajectory. After all, the local honey would help with Erik’s seasonal allergies.
“It sounded so romantic to have bees,” Rachael says. “Fun and scary at the same time.”
But, after a few years, what they stumbled onto as a fun hobby became the couple’s intellectual and practical passion as well as a flourishing full-time business: Messner Bee Farm.
In 2015, Erik, a structural engineer, and Rachael, a Kansas City Art Institute graduate, both left their jobs in the corporate world to pursue their own path of entrepreneurship. Today, Erik splits his time between keeping bees and running his own structural engineering company. Rachael runs Messner Bee Farm as her full-time job. In 2017, the Messners expanded their beekeeping business with their relocation to a 1920s homestead just off state Route 350 in Raytown.
The property brings with it a rich history, evoking Americana and Arts and Crafts spirit. The original homestead house on the property was an all-you-can-eat chicken restaurant. While this building no longer stands, the profits from the restaurant were used to build the chicken house where the Messners’ shop is now located, the building next door that they call home and the yellow rock barn on the property now owned by Erik’s grandparents. The Messners embrace the idea of returning to the land and replanting apple trees and berries originally on the property, which they hope will someday thrive in a symbiotic relationship with their bees.
Since 2006, researchers estimate that one-third of all honeybee colonies in the United States have vanished as a result of Colony Collapse Disorder, which is thought to be the result of a combination of environmental effects including global warming, pesticide use, habitat loss and parasites. This presents a problem to the U.S. agricultural industry, which relies on bees to pollinate crops including apples, berries, cantaloupe, cucumbers, alfalfa and almonds.
In their small family business, Erik is the head beekeeper, and Rachael creates the products and designs all the packaging for their beeswax products. It’s a hands-on creative process that brings them together toward a common good of helping pollinators thrive.
“Now that we’re here and it’s consuming our days, it’s great to know that you’re doing something that’s helping people, helping the environment and doing right by this species,” Erik says. “It’s nice to be devoted to something that’s so uncontroversial … everyone wants to help the honeybee.”
The products derived from the beeswax from their hives—lip balm, beard oil, deodorant and solid perfume—make up two-thirds of their business. They also sell raw honey in their on-site store and online. A goal for 2018 is to put the finishing touches on their commercial kitchen so Messner honey can also be sold in retail locations as well.
For the Messners, there’s beauty in the story of living on the land where they tend the hives and make their product.
“With us, there’s so much background in where it comes from and how it got to you,” Rachael says. “It just feels right.”
Find Messner Bee Farm lip balm locally at:
- Made in KC
- Midcoast Modern
- Phoenix Gallery
For raw Kansas City honey and other products, visit the Messner Bee Farm Store, 8301 Westridge Road, Raytown, MO 64138. Online at MessnerBeeFarm.com.