Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why and How Hilary Kearney Of Girl Next Door Honey Is Helping To Change Our World
An Interview With Martita Mestey
… Empower them. Kids aren’t really in control, but the truth is they have the power to influence their parents, friends and community. If a swarm of bees lands in their backyard, they can tell their parents not to exterminate them.
As part of my series about what we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment, I had the pleasure of interviewing Hilary Kearney.
Hilary Kearney is the author of two books: QueenSpotting and The Little Book of Bees. Her business, Girl Next Door Honey, offers educational opportunities to hundreds of new beekeepers each year. She teaches beekeeping, rescues wild bee colonies and manages around 60 hives in her hometown of San Diego, California.
Hilary has collaborated with Comvita, the global leader in Manuka Honey, for the second year of its bee rescue program, partnering with beekeepers and rescuers to relocate hives set to be terminated, and saving 10 million bees in honor of World Bee Day on May 20, 2022. Comvita will work with independent beekeepers across the U.S. to provide the resources they desperately need to safely remove and relocate hives, placing them in areas where they can thrive, saving bees and ultimately benefiting bee populations.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up in San Diego, California. I spent a lot of time at the beach and I was pretty obsessed with tide pools. I loved art, old movies, punk music and anything nature related. I had a huge stack of National Geographics and I used them as inspiration for my drawings.
Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?
My husband and I met at college. I was studying art and he was studying environmental science. He had a bucket list taped to his bedroom wall and it had all these random things on it, “ride my bike across the country, become a firefighter, get bees…” For some reason the bees just jumped out at me. I bought him a beekeeping book, but I read it and it just sucked me in and ended up snowballing into a business.
Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?
For me, honey bees have been a kind of “gateway bug” that opened my eyes to the plight of other insects and the greater environmental challenges that impact them and all of us. I think it’s really helpful to connect young people to these kinds of ambassador animals. If we can get them to love bees, for example, then we can teach them about how climate change, habitat loss, and pesticides are specifically hurting these bees. It makes it easier to understand and it makes them passionate about finding solutions.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
My company, Girl Next Door Honey, integrates bees into the local San Diego ecosystem through a network of backyard hives instead of lumping them together on some distant apiary. The bees live as they naturally would and their benefits reach more people. Our goal is to raise San Diego’s bee population throughout the city and at the same time spread awareness among the community, providing the education and tools one needs to create their own backyard hives to serve bee populations.
Additionally, I’m working with Manuka honey brand Comvita for the second year in a row to help facilitate its bee rescue program with the commitment to save 10 million bees this season by rescuing and relocating beehives set to be terminated and placing them in areas where they can thrive. I’m one of several beekeepers across the U.S. that Comvita has partnered with to provide grants to perform beehive rescues to save double the bees the company pledged to rescue last year through its program.
Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?
- Plant flowering trees: It’s best to find trees that are native to your area. That way, they will benefit a greater number of species and help preserve the local biodiversity. Trees provide millions of flowers once they are mature, plus, they help mitigate climate change and reduce air pollution.
- Let your garden be a little messy: Many bees depend on flowering weeds in spring. There’s a movement called “No Mow May” where people are letting things bloom on their lawns for the bees!
- Stop using pesticides: Often when a plant have pests it’s a sign of a bigger problem such as poor soil nutrition. A pesticide will not solve this problem, so, instead of reaching for a pesticide try fertilizing first.
Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth-led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion, what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
1) Get them to love an ambassador animal, like bees, and find a way to connect that animal to larger issues. When an extreme weather incident happens, for example, you can focus on how that might hurt the bees. I often bring up the California drought as an example. When we don’t get enough rain, we don’t have enough flowers for the bees.
2) Give them something tangible they can do at home to help. One of the cool things about bees is that even the smallest change to your backyard can make a difference. A flowering tree will provide millions of flowers for years to come and combat climate change at the same time.
3) Empower them. Kids aren’t really in control, but the truth is they have the power to influence their parents, friends and community. If a swarm of bees lands in their backyard, they can tell their parents not to exterminate them.
4) Make it fun! I love using my creativity to teach people. For example, I created an educational trivia game called “Pollinator Popcorn” that teaches people about the amazing diversity of pollinators on earth and the environmental challenges they face.
5) Engage them with an experience. I love getting people suited up and taking them into my beehives. I hold monthly tours where I educate people about bees while opening hives with them. Having an immersive experience can really make them feel connected to these kinds of issues and inspire them to take action.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
I think people really want to see more sustainable business practices and are willing to pay for it. When businesses make the effort to create real initiatives that make a difference, I think consumers respond by choosing them over competitors who aren’t making those same efforts.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
When I first got into beekeeping, I was living with my dad. He really helped support my interest and he never discouraged me from pursuing it. Other people thought I was nuts for wanting to get bees, but when I said, “Hey dad, can I put bees in your backyard and will you build me a beehive?” he didn’t bat an eye! He built me a hive out of scrap wood and even came with me for my very first bee rescue.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I really believe that planting flowering trees is the best way to help bees. I’d love to inspire people to find native pollinator trees and plant them.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
I like the idea of everything happening for a reason. When things go wrong, I try to find the lesson in it. When I was in my early 20’s I was running my beekeeping business, but only on weekends because I was stuck in an office job I hated. I did not think I could have success beekeeping full time, so I was applying for other jobs, but nothing was panning out. Then, an educational position at the San Diego Zoo came up. It was my dream job. I made it to the top 3 candidates out of 1,000 applicants. I thought I finally found my path, but I did not get the position. I was devastated, but I looked at my situation and decided maybe the reason I couldn’t get my dream job was because I already had it right in front of me. Within a month I quit my office job and was pursuing my own business full-time.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
You can find me on Instagram @girlnextdoorhoney
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why and How Hilary Kearney Of Girl Next Door Honey Is… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.