Mind Your Own Beeswax
Grace Long is the bee girl.
“A lot of people associate me with beekeeping,” Long said. “I can use it in every class as my unique fact about myself, and it’s definitely a conversation starter.”
For the past six years, Long has been hard at work not only as a full-time student but also as an entrepreneur. She founded her small-scale honey business, Long’s Honey, during her freshman year of high school after deciding to take agriculture classes and joining the Future Farmers of America (FFA). One of the requirements for FFA is participating in a supervised agricultural project where students apply what they have learned both in the classroom and through FFA into a real-life scenario. For her project, Long’s father suggested using worms to create and sell high-quality soil. Long decided on bees instead.
“[Beekeeping is] very small scale and able to be done in urban settings,” Long said. “We found a scholarship from the Iowa Honey Producers that would provide all of my equipment for my first hive for free, as well as bee classes at the local community college from the state apiarist.”
In the midst of a global pandemic, Long has used her passion for bees and agriculture to get her through a spring and summer of quarantine. “My apiary business has definitely been an escape for me throughout this entire pandemic,” Long said. “It’s been something I can focus my energies on when the outside world wasn’t going so great.”
She decided to dedicate her extra free time to expanding her operation. “I have always wanted to develop the wax side of my business,” Long said. “Bees don’t just produce honey, they produce a lot of other byproducts, but the biggest one I’ve encountered in my small-scale business is wax.”
While stuck at home, Long built a solar oven and refined all of her bee’s wax by melting it down into useable blocks and removing all of its impurities. This wax will eventually be made into candles, but first Long must invest in some candle-making equipment and design some candle labels. She hopes to be selling them by Christmas.
The pandemic itself hasn’t been the only challenge Long faced over the period of quarantine. Agriculture is always a risky business to invest in because so many things can potentially go wrong. Long’s bees could die over the course of any winter. Because the bees live outside, there’s always the chance that inclement weather could hurt the hives as well. In August, when the derecho stormed its way through Iowa, Long had to rush to her hives the minute the storm ended because one of her hives had toppled over. What is usually a ten-minute drive took her over half an hour due to the amount of debris in the road from the derecho.
“I had to put the hives back up because it was still raining,” Long said. “If the bees got exposed to too much rain in the hive, they could die.” Even though all the hives have survived, they’re a lot weaker and we got a lot less honey because of that.”
In a time where lots of small businesses have been suffering, Long’s honey sales have only increased, a result she credits to the fact that she is a local source. Many of her customers buy bottles regularly every few weeks. “Grace is a relationship builder,” Stephanie Salasek, one of Long’s customers, said. “I really believe that we do business with people who we know, like, and respect.”
Long believes that people find local sources to be more attractive due to the pandemic because people know exactly where the product is coming from. She has always bottled her honey in a sterile environment, but due to the pandemic, she now offers no contact delivery, as well, to encourage social distancing. Her clients leave their payment under the doormat, and she drops the bottles of honey off on their porch. “I enjoy the seamless customer experience,” Salasek said. “She will deliver, she keeps an inventory for year-round requests, and the honey is second to none.”
For Long, the struggles that come with being a small business owner, especially during a pandemic, have been worth the impact her business has on the people around her. “I have a lot of people that really rely on my honey, so it makes me feel like I have a role in my community,” Long said. “I’m contributing something that goes beyond just financial gain for myself.”