Rachael and Erik Messner didn’t dream of becoming beekeepers when they were growing up in Lee’s Summit. But in a few short years, they have grown a backyard hobby into a thriving small business. Erik is a professional engineer and Rachael attended Kansas City Art Institute with an emphasis on photography and design. These backgrounds led the way to a perfect pairing for Messner Bee Farm and these two Beeks (Bee + Geek), as they lovingly refer to themselves. They can now add professional beekeepers to their resumes.
When The Messners got married, they spent most of their free time in their backyard, gardening, growing food, and tending to chickens. In 2011, they got their first hive and began what would soon become a full-time job and way of living. Erik suffered from seasonal allergies and knew that eating local, raw honey was a way to combat them. They began with one hive. Shortly after, Erik was offered a job in New Zealand working in earthquake recovery. While in New Zealand, Rachael realized many people were making a living doing what they loved: creating. She fondly remembers a woman who harvested her own clay, creating pots and other items. When they returned stateside, Rachael couldn’t stop thinking about how she could become a maker. She started sculpting items out of clay, like buttons and earrings. Erik began harvesting honey in the new hive and Rachael began using the beeswax to make lip gloss and soap. This led to more apothecary products like solid perfume lockets (made using beeswax and hand-shaped clay) and beard oil.
When the Messner’s realized there was a real demand for the actual honey they were cultivating, not just the apothecary items, their operations grew. They went from one hive to 15 and started making bottled honey, creamed honey, and honey sticks. They sold their products at craft fairs, like The Strawberry Swing, as well as online and soon, storefronts started carrying their products. They purchased property from Erik’s family in Raytown in 2017 with the dream of opening a retail store. The building that now houses this dream was originally a chicken house dating back to the 1920s. The Messner’s currently have 19 hives on their farm. This translates to almost 1 million bees in the summer and 200,000 bees during the winter months. When asked where the bees go for the winter, Rachael says, “The queen stops laying eggs as the temperature drops, so most of her worker bees (females) age out and die. She hangs with what’s left of her posse, but they kick out the drones (male bee whose primary goal is to mate with an unfertilized queen). They form a winter cluster and basically huddle together until warmer weather comes. They vibrate their flight muscles to generate heat.”
Once The Messners began tending to the hives, they realized how complicated it is for bees to make honey. After experiencing Colony Collapse, what Rachael describes as worker bees caring more about the hive then themselves, so if one is sick, it leaves to go die and the other worker bees follow. “The worker bees will leave a perfectly good colony, abandoning the queen, plenty of food, and some nurse bees to care for the immature baby bees, but the colony can’t function without worker bees!” Rachael says. So she and Erik now use their expertise to educate about processes like bee pollination and the need for protection, so bees can continue pollinating and creating honey. Rachael hopes being advocates for the honey bee will lead to more research and communication in the scientific community regarding what is going wrong with the bees when colonies collapse. “There is no real answer. Scientists say it a combination of multiple environmental factors or some disease that we can’t see.” says Rachael. One of these factors is pesticide poisoning through exposure to pesticides applied to crops. The Messners follow natural beekeeping practices, which means they use a sustainable treatment strategy to minimize losses and perpetuate the evolutionary selection of resilient and independently healthy bees, which is also gentle on their colonies. They use organic acids found in nature and also communicate with their neighbors and the public at-large about their pesticide and insecticide use.
Rachael describes their beekeeping lifestyle with a Theodore Roosevelt quote: “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
The Messner Bee Farm is located at 8301 Westridge Road in Raytown, Missouri. You can find them there Thursday through Sunday from 10-5. You can shop online at www.messnerbeefarm.com.