Creative Mornings: Jana Kinsman

“Welcome to Death by Jana,” joked Creative Mornings speaker, Jana Kinsman, as she began her presentation.

The month’s theme was Death, but Kinsman’s presentation couldn’t have been more alive, considering her passion for her work. Kinsman is the founder of Bike a Bee — a beekeeping service that cares for hives at community gardens, farms and schools on Chicago’s South Side, all by bicycle. Jana Kinsman Headshot

As a kid, Kinsman’s nickname was River Rat because she was always out exploring. And yes, as you might expect, she loved bugs.

“How does the entire world not think that insects are awesome?” she said.

After college, Kinsman worked as a graphic designer for Crate and Barrel at their headquarters in Northbrook, IL. She was quite content there for a while, but soon working for a huge corporation began to feel purposeless.

“Plus, there was a guy,” Kinsman said, rolling her eyes. “He was from the West Coast. He was really into making sauerkraut.”

And he introduced her to a different way of thinking — equating weath with experiences rather than money. Instead of paying for something, you could trade, barter or borrow. So Kinsman took a leave of absence from Crate and Barrel and started traveling and experiencing.

“Soon, I, too, was content having just $200 in my bank account,” Kinsman said. “If you adjust for inflation.”

During this time, she took a beekeeping class, which she loved. This was also when bees began appearing on everyone’s radar as headlines declared their impending demise. Kinsman decided to pursue beekeeping and flew to Eugene, OR, to take a more advanced course. Back in Chicago, her lack of roof and backyard space helped inspire the idea for Bike a Bee. Kinsman now cares for more than 40 hives on the South Side, all via bike.

“The magic of bees is when you place them around people living and working,” Kinsman said. This way, people become more connected to nature.

Of course, Kinsman couldn’t give a presentation on bees without addressing the elephant in the room — they’re dying. And she couldn’t discuss this trend without first educating the audience a bit on bees. First, they’re a community — “a super organism” — and they have jobs. Worker bees, undertaker bees, the queen. It’s the worker bees that go out and collect nectar from flowers, fertilizing the plants in the process.

“Without a little hairy thing crawling around on flowers, we wouldn’t have watermelons or blueberries,” Kinsman noted. “Honey bees are amazing.”

So why are they dying?

Mostly because of the advent of factory farms, which are exactly what they sound like — giant farms concerned with producing as much food and meat as quickly as possible. By seemingly any means possible.

“They have eroded everything good — from family and community values to literally the soil we stand on,” Kinsman said.

Factory farms led to commercial beekeeping, which puts large numbers of hives on trucks and drives them around the country to pollinate monoculture crops. In other words, it’s a food desert for bees. Plus, they’re passing diseases back and forth, getting parasites and being poisoned by pesticides.

“I have not lost all hope,” Kinsman said. “I’ve lost most of it, but not all of it.”

Billions of dollars are backing honey bees because we need them to pollinate our crops and in turn, make us more money. It’s the other natural pollinators we should worry about, Kinsman said — like digger bees, carpenter bees and bumblebees. She advocates for all of them.

If you want to advocate too, Kinsman suggests voting with your dollar by buying organic food and shopping at farmers markets and local health food stores.

The audience was clearly taken with Kinsman and her love of bees, but there was one more thing they wanted to know: does she ever get stung? Yes, Kinsman conceded, but she works with millions of bees and only gets stung about 12 times per year. Not bad.