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Jana Kinsman models a beekeeper’s veil by her hives at Eden Place nature center

Chicago cyclist Jana Kinsman has a honey of a plan. As a freelance graphic designer and illustrator, she did design, illustration and modeling for the 2011 and 2012 Thought You Knew pin-up calendars, featuring glamorous photos of local bicyclists. But last summer while apprenticing at an apiary (a place where bees, not apes, are kept) in Oregon, she got bitten by the bug. She decided to start Bike-a-Bee, a car-free beekeeping project back home in the Windy City.

Kinsman recently created a Kickstarter page to raise $7,000 for hive equipment and packages of bees, plus a bike trailer to transport the gear to apiaries she’ll maintain at urban farms and community gardens all over town. I’m never one to mind my own beeswax when it comes to innovative cycling ideas, so I caught up with her yesterday morning at Café Mustache in Logan Square, where she filled me in on the history and details of her plan, still in its larval phase.

Afterwards we rode to the South Side to visit hives she recently adopted at Eden Place, a nature education center at 43rd Pl. and Shields (300 W.) in the Fuller Park neighborhood. The field trip down to this hidden gem of an urban farm (here’s a Google map of our somewhat stealthy route) was a buzz in itself – I’ve included photos from the trip with captions in italics, embedded within the interview.

But enough of my droning. Please put on your favorite music, whether it’s Sting, the Yellowjackets, or W.A.S.P., kick back and enjoy this conversation with Chicago’s Queen Bee of pedal-powered apiculture.

Tell me about your background with bicycling.

My dad is an avid cyclist. He’s one of those guys who got into the vintage English frames and older Schwinn frames and stuff when he was in college. So I’ve been riding my whole life. I think I started when I was four or five.

When I moved to the city in ’06 [after growing up in west suburban Wheaton] I brought this little trail bike with me. It was a really crappy bike but it got me to and from work. Then I started dating a guy who had a Fuji Special Road Racer and I just loved the way that bike looked with the thinner tubing and everything.

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On our way down to Eden Place we stumbled upon the Growing Station community garden at 21st and Sangamon (930 W.) in Pilsen. By a complete coincidence there happened to be a couple of beehives there.

Then I got more interested in vintage bikes and I started riding my mom’s ’78 Raleigh Super Course. From then on I just got more and more into vintage bikes. I learned how to overhaul them and I got more into riding. So since probably ’07 I’ve been riding a lot. And then I got a job in Northbrook that I commuted to by bike and started doing longer distances. I rode from Chicago to Michigan one summer and I’ve taken my bike on trips. I got from the point where I was just using it for a six-mile ride to work in Edgewater to doing it all the time, riding everywhere, riding in all seasons, in different states and climates.

And what’s your background with beekeeping?

I’ve been interested in bees probably since ’05 or ’06. I took a class with the Chicago Honey Co-op in February of 2011. That summer I went to Eugene, Oregon, and did some beekeeping at an apiary called Blessed Bee. That was such a great experience.

I came back to Chicago with this renewed vision for keeping bees in the city. Then I got more involved with the Chicago Honey Co-op and I volunteered for their farmers market table and I helped them out in other ways.

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We passed by Blue City Cycles, 3201 S. Halsted in Bridgeport, which recently installed fencing made out of bicycle rims around a neighboring garden and has beautiful new murals on its storefront.

What exactly is the Chicago Honey Co-op?

It’s basically a cooperative of beekeepers. They have an apiary where there are 40 or 50 hives in North Lawndale, near Roosevelt (1200 S.) and Homan (3800 W.) It’s this great group of urban beekeepers who are just the best resource and really nice, so they’ve been a great source of mentoring for me. They’re pretty much the foremost authority in beekeeping in Chicago.

Do they have a particular goal of bringing beekeeping to underserved communities?

They employ ex-offenders, people who have a criminal background -it can be difficult to get a job with a felony on your record. So they definitely help out folks in underserved neighborhoods. [Unfortunately the property where the co-op's apiary is located was recently sold, so they will need to find a new space after this winter.]

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The entrance to Eden Place urban farm and nature education center. 

What do they do with the honey they produce?

They sell it at the Logan Square Farmers Market and the Green City Market and they also have an Etsy store where they also sell beeswax candles and body products with honey as well.

What’s your proposal to combine bicycling with beekeeping?

When I was in Eugene, the guy at Blessed Bee had hives in multiple locations around Eugene and Springfield, Oregon. So wasn’t just in his yard where he had twenty hives, he had them everywhere. Each spot where he had them was somebody’s backyard or a little farm, and there was one at an elementary school.

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When I parked my bike, some of the farm’s goats tried to literally eat my panniers.

So it’s the same idea of having multiple hives throughout the city and connecting people who may not have had hives of their own with a beehive. I really loved that idea, but he served everyone by truck. I would tell him I wanted to do the same thing but I wanted to do it on my bicycle. It was kind of like this running joke, but it wasn’t a joke to me. When I got back to Chicago I really wanted to make that happen. So I thought about getting a trailer and a bin, and the logistics of how I would service hives and then get back to where I needed to store the honey.

What all are you going to need to carry?

It depends on the season. If it’s summer, when you just need to be checking on the bees, you need to carry a smoker to keep the bees calm, a hive tool to open up the hive, a bee veil and gloves, and that’s it.

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Don’t let the photo fool you – these are some big, scary geese.

In the late summer when you need to start thinking about harvesting honey, that would be when I would need to carry a bin around with empty frames, and then switch them out with frames that are filled with honey from the hives. And then I’d ride back to where I’d have honey processing equipment, process the honey and then repeat the same thing the next day.

So you’ve launched a Kickstarter project to raise money for the trailer?

Money is needed for the trailer and also for all the hive equipment, as well as for honey packaging equipment. I’m trying to raise $7,000.

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The farm, including this prairie restoration area with ducks, is located directly below the CSX railroad embankment with live freight and Amtrak traffic.

What kind of trailer do you want to have?

I’m not sure yet. I have a vision in my mind of what I want it to look like and I haven’t done the research as far as the specifics, but I know it exists. My friend said a Burley trailer would be nice. I want it to have a big, flat bed and then two wheels on either side. The bed would have little holes that you could put straps through to strap things down. It would be maybe two feet wide.

OK, so comparable to a Bikes at Work trailer?

Yeah, nothing huge. The size of the bin that I need to carry isn’t that big.

So we’re going down to around 43rd and Halsted? What’s the space?

It’s a little farm called Eden Place. It’s a great place to take schoolchildren to educate them about natural systems. They have a pond, goats, geese, chickens, a vegetable garden, a big hoop house [greenhouse], some prairie grasses and some beehives. I inherited the hives from Cherie LeBlanc Fisher, a woman who was moving to Ohio and needed someone to care for the bees. The honey co-op actually hooked us up. We hit it off and so I take care of the hives now. Right now all the bees are “in bed” [staying inside the hive but not hibernating] for the winter.

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Kinsman petting one of the nature center’s Shetland ponies.

Anything else you want to tell me about the project?

I launched on Friday but at this point [three days later] I think we’re like 30% funded. It’s doing really well and I’m really happy about that.

So you’ve already got about $2,000 after only three days – how does that happen?

The way Kickstarter works is you launch a project and say, this is what I want to do and I want my community to help make it happen. I’m offering different incentives at various pledge levels. There are $5, $10, $25, $50 $100, $200, $250 and $500 pledge levels. With a $5 pledge you get a thank you on my website, and it gets into even bigger incentives from there, like you get honey or you get your name on the hive or you even get to name the queen.

Kickstarter is a really great system. I’ve known people who have launched things on there that were really successful. The Thought You Knew calendar paid for its printing this year using Kickstarter instead of doing sponsorship. It’s a great way to get the community involved, and it’s much better than me just raising the money on my own because this way the people who want to make it happen will actually get to be part of the process along the way.

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  • Kingdufus

    Those are foies gras geese. Cool. Are they going to do foies gras?

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

      Good question – let me look into that. If those birds are, in fact, doomed to be turned into pâté, I’m not sure 49th Alderman Joe “Duck Wars” Moore would approve.

  • http://profiles.google.com/alottes Ash L

    Must you with that pun, John?

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

      Actually, I held back a bit. The original draft had about 30% more apiculture jokes, including a list of bee-related band names and song titles as long as my arm.

      • Kingdufus

        Were you buzzed when you wrote it?

  • http://www.UrbanFarmAndBeehives.com/ Mil

    Very cool. This reminds me of a guy in Canada who has a compost pick up business. It’s called pedal to petal. They use bikes only too.

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