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Raytown Couple Dreams Of Urban Homestead, Starts With Bees

Laura Spencer
KCUR 89.3
Rachael and Erik Messner, an artist and an engineer, stand next to their honey bee boxes in Raytown, Missouri.

“Makers” is a series that shares stories of why people are compelled to create something with their own hands. 

  • Name: Messner Family Farm, Rachael and Erik Messner
  • Makes: Honey-related products, such as lip balm, and sells raw honey
  • Location: Raytown, Missouri (previously Kansas City, Missouri)
  • Background: Erik is a structural engineer; Rachael majored in photography at the Kansas City Art Institute
  • Number of years as a maker: first beehive in December 2012, full-time business since October 2015

On a need to expand 

Erik: "Previously we had been doing all of our work out of our home [in Kansas City] and it got way too big, so we're in the process of converting this space [in Raytown] into both a retail shop and a commercial kitchen at the same time." 

Rachael: "Our honey operation is getting big enough that we need to package in a commercial kitchen rather than just our house."

On the idea behind backyard bees

Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Rachael Messner measures out ingredients as she prepares to make a batch of lip balm.

Rachael: "When we first got married, I loved the idea of an urban homestead, and keeping chickens and having a garden, maybe sheep someday. Reading on line and books, bees kept coming back into it. And they seemed scary, but they also seemed really interesting. 

"Erik has pretty bad seasonal allergies. So I thought that we could just have some really local honey in our backyard. And we asked our grandparents for a hive for Christmas [in 2012] and they got it for us."  

Erik: "And the story of Messner Family Farm is that, end of that year we ended up with a bunch of extra wax from the processing. There was this block of wax and we had this disagreement about what to do with it. I wanted to make a candle for my grandma. And Rachael was like, 'I want to make lip balm.' And I said, 'Lip balm! Where did that come from?"

Rachael: "With lip balm, you can stretch the wax a lot farther, so I thought we could get 100 lip balms for one candle."

Erik: "It was really good reasoning [Rachael: "Yeah."], turns out."

On why a beekeeper uses a smoker

Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Erik Messner prepares the bee smoker with some pine needles. It generates smoke, and helps to calm honey bees.

Erik: "One of the things they say about beekeeping is that 50 percent of beekeeping is [bee] smoker management, just keeping the fire lit in the smoker. It has a way of going out, right when you need it the most. 

"Smoke them any time you check them. And even the toughest beekeepers, for the most part, will smoke their bees.

"This [on a May 24 visit, it was 55 degrees] is not clustering temperature; they're not making a cluster because it's too cold. They are going to be likely — depending on which hive we go to — quiet and inside, and might not want to make a lot of noise.

"A lot of times when you smoke them, it sort of wakes the hive up."    

Maker Faire Kansas City, Saturday and Sunday, June 24 - 25, Union Station Kansas City, 30 W. Pershing Road, Kansas City, Missouri 64108.

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @lauraspencer.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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