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    Sweet on Bees | Winter 2015 Out Here Magazine

    By Casey Kelly-Barton

    Photography by Kevin Vandivier

    Mikaila Ulmer is one busy bee advocate.

    Mikaila, 11, speaks up for bee conservation and habitat protection every chance she gets — and she gets a lot of opportunities as the CEO of BeeSweet, her lemonade company.

    It’s an issue that’s drawn substantial attention from local farms to the White House, after years of bee declines and a 2015 report that U.S. beekeepers lost 40 percent of their hives over the previous year.

    This 11-year-old from Austin, Texas, knows her facts.

    “Bees pollinate one-third of the crops we eat, and they also contribute $15 billion to the U.S. agricultural economy each year,” Mikaila says. “If the bees left the surface of the earth, the farmers would be in trouble. So would the beekeepers, and so would we. The price for fruits and vegetables would rise, and they would be rarer.”

    The problem of shrinking bee numbers concerns everyone, and it also impacts Mikaila’s bottom line because her product ingredients — lemons, flaxseed, mint, and prickly pear blossoms — are bee-pollinated.

    Rethinking Bees

    Mikaila’s business and bee awareness campaign are generating lots of buzz now, but the birth of Mikaila’s mission was painful — literally. Seven years ago, while she was trying to decide on a project for a local children’s business fair, she was stung by bees.

     

    “I didn’t like bees so much that my parents made me do some research on them so that I would be less afraid of them,” she recalls. “Doing that research, I found out what important pollinators they were and that they were dying, so I decided to create a product to help save the bees.”

     

    Drawing on her newfound concern for bees and her great-aunt’s cherished flaxseed lemonade recipe, Mikaila developed a successful blend of entrepreneurship and advocacy.

     

    BeeSweet sources its honey from local beekeepers and gives at least 10 percent of its profits to bee conservation and beekeeping organizations.

     

    “I donate to groups that want to save the bees and also to groups helping beekeepers whose hives may have been washed away in floodwaters or who have gotten Africanized bees,” Mikaila says, referring to the aggressive hybrid also called, “killer bees.”

    Mikaila is also hands-on, helping to teach the occasional beekeeping class for children and adults at Round Rock Honey, one of the businesses that supplies BeeSweet.

    “Mr. Konrad (Round Rock Honey owner Konrad Bouffard) lets me put on a bee suit and hold the panels that make the honey, and I think that’s really, really cool.”

    Mikaila wants to help more people become bee advocates and she suggests a few ways to get started:

    • “Learn as much as you can about bees, and spread the awareness,” she says.
    • Shoppers can buy local honey and products made with it to support area beekeepers.
    • “Plant bee-friendly flowers in different colors, shapes, and sizes” in your yard or garden.
    • “Try to avoid using pesticides, because when the bees pollinate plants with pesticides, they can’t find their way back to the hive,” she says. “And if they ever do get back, the pesticides can spread to the whole hive.”
    • “Don’t be afraid of bees. “If you think of bees from a different perspective, you’ll be less afraid,” she says. “If you realize that bees are hardworking and caring and amazing and they like what they do, then you’re more likely to be less afraid and you’ll take more care of them.”