Pretty much everybody knows that bees are on the decline, but how much can one individual change the impending fate of our global pollinators? If you ask Carly Stein, badass founder of Beekeepers Naturals, the answer is a heck of a lot.
Carly loves bees. And for good reason. Not only does she know that bees are hugely important to human existence, but bees have also drastically improved her personal health. Carly was born with an autoimmune disorder that, while relatively manageable, renders her unable to take antibiotics—which makes common infections like tonsillitis or strep a lot more serious. It would take her weeks to recover from common childhood ailments, and it wasn’t until she was studying abroad in Italy and suffered a serious bout of tonsillitis that she discovered something at the pharmacy that would change her life—propolis.
For those who don’t know, propolis is a bee product. Carly describes it as ‘the immune system of the hive’. This bee-made concoction lines the hive to prevent any bacterial or viral infections from wiping the bees out. And Europeans have been using it medicinally for centuries.
With the propolis, Carly incredibly avoided going home for surgery and made a gradual recovery. Of course, when Carly returned home to Canada, she couldn’t find a good source of the wonderful stuff anywhere.
“I hit up every health food store. Couldn’t find it. Nobody really knew what it was. So, eventually, I emailed the local Beekeeping Association and asked if there was anybody I could purchase this product from. They passed my email off to this one guy who got back to me and said I could buy it directly from him. Next thing I knew, I was driving out into the middle of nowhere in British Columbia to buy some raw propolis from this beekeeper.”� It was when she got to see his bees and watch the beekeeping process that Carly developed a new passion. She knew she wanted to become a beekeeper.
It was an unexpected choice, to say the least. After college cheerleading practice, Carly would rush out to be a beekeeper’s apprentice.
“I really fell in love with the creatures. I was mesmerized by the whole practice. I found it really relaxing. It was this awesome escape into nature. And bees are just very intricate creatures, so the more I learned the more I fell in love with them.”
It was during college that she took advantage of the chemistry lab and began formulating her own propolis spray that contained no additives, preservatives or alcohol. She would offer it to friends when they were sick, stressed or overworked, and soon there was a demand for it on campus. Fast forward a few years and her company, Beekeepers Naturals, is booming with a line of bee products that are healthy, healing, sustainable and incredibly tasty, while also serving to create a powerful platform of awareness about bees.
“I came at this company from a very organic place. I didn’t just see an opportunity in the market or see a place where I could profit. I really, personally experienced a change in my health and became very passionate about a certain type of product and the creatures that make it and wanted to share it.”
And it’s not all about the raw honey. While Beekeepers Naturals does source and sell incredible honeys, Carly has worked with her team to formulate an impressive line of natural, sustainable products derived from bee superfoods like bee pollen, royal jelly and propolis. (Not sure what those are? Learn more about these fascinating products.) Whether you’re looking to boost your immune system, your nutrition or your brain power, bee products can make a huge difference.
I had the chance to catch up with Carly to discuss what Beekeepers Naturals is all about and get her take on the state of the bees.
As a very young company, you’ve made a conscious decision to become a certified B corporation, which means you’re a for-profit corporation committed to doing social and environmental good. What sort of actions are you taking along those lines?
“We’re sustainable in all of our practices down from the way we pack things to recycling at the office. But we definitely have a very different business model in terms of sourcing. This is something I am really proud of and that makes our company very green and different, especially in this space. What we do is we work with a network of small scale apiaries and every apiary we work with, we actually do a green audit on them. So myself or my business parter, who is also a beekeeper, will actually fly out there, get to know the beekeeper, look at their practices, look at the surrounding area. We’re looking at things like exposure to pesticides in the surrounding area, because here’s the thing; just because you have an organic apiary, that doesn’t really mean much because bees can forage for up to 5 miles. If your neighbors are doing some dirty things, it’s going to affect the bees. So that really limits the apiaries we work with, but that’s part of who we are. Not only does that mean we really have control of our production and make sure the beekeepers we work with are actually helping bee populations and doing things in a nourishing way, but we can control product quality. We can make sure you honestly are getting the highest quality, purest end product.”
Beekeepers Naturals also does third-party pesticide testing, just to be sure. And they are staunchly committed to educating and spreading awareness about bees.
“We consider ourselves a vessel of awareness and we really work hard to educate and speak to this cause.”�
Beekeepers Naturals partners with Canadian Bee Research Fund and UC Davis Bee Research, giving 10 percent of the profits from the awesome hats and tees for sale on their website to these organizations.
Beekeepers Naturals comes from a very scientific place, but you’re using entirely natural products, which is a really balanced approach. Usually it is one or the other with companies. How do you think we can better begin to balance science and the natural world?
“I think people can take a more meticulous approach to natural health products, and that’s what we try to do. Our tagline is ‘Naturally sourced. Obsessively tested.’ We derive all of our ingredients from nature but we treat them exactly as one would in the lab. We work with a third party facility and do a lot of testing. We are thoughtful when it comes to our products. Actually, I spent 2 years developing our newest product, a nootropic brain booster that supports brain health and concentration called B.LXR. We’re very meticulous in our research and formulate our products based on scientific principles.”
From your perspective, what are the real issues facing bees right now?
“The number one thing we like to talk about is pesticide use. There is a certain class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, which are the most widely used and are actually a neuroactive substance. So they affect the bees’ spacial reasoning, their smell, their ability to forage for food and essentially their ability to communicate. So that’s something that’s been really detrimental to the bees and it’s really pervasive and widely used. And the scary thing to is that the chemical can’t necessarily be washed off, as it grows up through the vascular system of the plant.
“Our current agricultural practices are also an issue. Nowadays we have monocultures, which makes sense economically. You’re an expert, you tend to one crop type. The problem is when you have one type of crop, there is a single bee period. There will be one, maybe a few times, a year when plants are in bloom, and other times in the year when nothing is in bloom and there is no food for the bees. So, one simple thing we really encourage is margin planting. Just planting a variety of wildflowers in the margins of a field to make sure that the bees have a more diverse diet.
“Parasites also come into play, and the changes in climates have really been harsh on the bees. And I think the bees’ immune systems have really been compromised from all the pesticides, so when we’re experiencing things like harsher climates, it’s a little bit tougher for them to make it through.”
“Bees pollinate one third of our food supply. Things like apples, cucumber, pumpkins, almonds, avocados, we rely on bees to produce all of these things. Losing the bees would mean losing serious amounts of our food supply, not to mention the effect it would have on the broader ecosystem. It would cause a crazy ripple effect. I mean, every third bite of food we take is bee pollinated. We would have a massive food shortage. The inflation on natural and healthy foods would be obscene. It would be a real epidemic if we lost the bees. There are so many important things going on today and it’s so easy to turn the other way when you hear about the bees because they’re such a little insect. But, the critical role they play for our planet, we can’t afford to overlook something like that.”
How can we start making a difference at home?
“This is something where it’s really easy to make a difference. Buy the right things. Stop buying pesticide-covered produce. Shop organic when you can. Hit up the farmer’s market. Buy some untreated seeds, which cost almost nothing, and a pot and grow some stuff on your balcony. And definitely stop using pesticides on your front lawn and plant some flowers or a garden in your backyard. It really makes a difference. A huge issue right now is bees don’t have a clean food supply that doesn’t contain pesticides… And of course, buy sustainably sourced bee products.
“I just want people to spread the word.”
So what are you waiting for? #Savethebees. It’s really not that hard to bee better.