by Lauren Gill | Photography by Piper Kruse
“I know about bikes. I know about bees. But what do they have to do with each other?” While sitting with Jana Kinsman, head beekeeper and founder of the urban agricultural project Bike a Bee—at a table outfitted with pieces of hives, Humboldt Park honey, and her Peugeot bicycle—I watched her answer with ease. It was about sustainability, she explained, and she couldn’t imagine caring for her bees in any other way.
Bike a Bee, an ambitious venture of beekeeping by bicycle across communities of Chicago, is the product of a WWOOFing experience gone right. WWOOF (the long abbreviation for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is what brought Jana Kinsman to Eugene, Oregon in the summer of 2011 to be an apprentice at an apiary. While there, she worked with a beekeeper that had hives spread throughout Eugene on other peoples’ land and created a micro-community in his keeping.
Jana had been nurturing an interest in the urban agricultural movement in Chicago for a few years by then, and decided to reach out to community gardens upon her return home. Since the main role of a bee revolves around pollination and helping plants to reproduce (and therefore, thrive), she surmised that a community garden could get the best return for their investment of space.
One fully funded and successful Kickstarter project later, Jana has ten hives in seven Chicago neighborhoods—from a hive close to her workspace (her job as an illustrator pays the bills and decorates Bike a Bee’s website) in Avondale at Monticello and Milwaukee to the rooftop of Chicago’s sustainability incubator, The Plant, down in the Back of the Yards community. And, as the name implies, she tends to each hive by bike with a trailer in tow with supplies abound should she need to adjust a bee home on her weekly check-ins.
Bike a Bee started out of Jana’s love for bees, and now she gushingly admits that the project has grown her love for the community through the response she has gotten across Chicago. Jana has been tapped by urban agricultural organizations like The Kid’s Table and Truck Farm and has been “The Bee Lady” in a classroom setting at the Academy for Global Citizenship.
Ideally, Jana hopes to continue on the education front with classes in the Spring to teach interested individuals how to keep bees of their own should they choose (or, at the very least, to learn more about bees’ role in the food production and to dismantle the common fear of bees). Honey, while definitely the moneymaker of hobby beekeepers, is less on Jana’s mind right now: “City bees have a better chance of survival compared with their rural sisters, with the use of pesticides and all. I want to educate people in Chicago about the importance of pollinators more than anything.”