It took a decade for Stuart and Cedar Anderson, a father and son living in rural Australia, to find a solution to a challenge they’d experienced as beekeepers: how to harvest honey without donning an uncomfortable bee suit, smoking out the bees, and going through a series of cumbersome and messy steps that could kill bees in the process.
When they first launched their invention three years ago on Indiegogo–a hive that releases honey through a tap, called the Flow Hive–they set a goal of raising $70,000 to start production. They reached that goal in around five minutes. In 15 minutes, they had raised a quarter of a million dollars. By the end of the campaign, they’d raised $12.2 million, and helped thousands of people become first-time beekeepers. The Flow Hive was also a winner of Fast Company’s 2016 World Changing Idea awards. Now, a second version of the product, which closed a new crowdfunding campaign on March 4, raised around $1,500,000.
In part, the idea has likely been a success because it came at a time of grave concern about the challenges facing pollinators, coupled with growing preferences for DIY and local food. In the U.S., within the last decade, New York City; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; Seattle; and other cities have lifted bans on backyard beekeeping in response to demand.
“The rate of beginners getting into beekeeping has more than doubled in a decade,” says Kim Flottum, editor of Bee Culture, a magazine about beekeeping, though he notes that beginners also seem to be abandoning beekeeping more quickly than they had in the past; one factor is that beekeeping ends up being more difficult than people expect.
The Flow Hive, which dramatically simplifies the process of extracting honey, might help more amateur beekeepers stay with their backyard projects. The hive uses artificial honeycombs; bees fill the cells with honey and cap them with wax. When the beekeeper sees, through a window on the side of the hive, that a comb is filled with honey, they can use a lever to twist the artificial honeycomb so the cells release the honey through a tap into a jar.
Part of the appeal is simply watching the process work. “I think there is a human fascination with, ‘let’s turn a handle, press a button, and some produce will materialize,'” says cofounder Cedar Anderson. “There aren’t many things in the world you can do that with. We’ve designed a system that allows you to turn a handle and get beautiful produce ready for the table right from your very small footprint in your backyard or on your rooftop.”
Customers are also drawn to the idea of an analog hobby that connects them with their food. “Lots of people come to us and say things like, ‘We needed an excuse to get the kids off the iPad–they’re down there harvesting honey, and they’re learning about the world we all depend on,'” he says.
The Andersons did little to market the first campaign, apart from spending time shooting a video with an iPhone 4 and using a “swinging contraption made with old bits of wood” to move the phone to create a time-lapse. When they released a part of the video days before the campaign launched, it had a million views within 30 hours. “That’s when we knew that the world wanted our invention,” Anderson says.
He sees the product as a way to help support bees globally. “We know that insects, in general, are on the decrease,” he says. “We know that the bees are struggling. We know that the way humans use pesticides and the way we farm isn’t the best for our pollinators and a lot of the insects.”
Roughly half of the 51,000 Flow Hives sold to date have gone to new beekeepers. When people take up beekeeping, Anderson says, they often tell the company that they’ve given the honey to their neighbors–and convinced them, in the process, to stop using pesticides on their gardens.
The hives still require work and expertise to make sure that the bees stay healthy. “Simply having bees isn’t saving the bees,” says Flottum. As the number of backyard bees increases, especially in cities, it also introduces a new challenge: If a single bee can pollinate hundreds or even a couple of thousand flowers in a day, and a hive can visit millions, there’s a risk of running out of sources of nectar. As hives increase, the number of pollinator-friendly flowers will also need to grow. Some argue that it may be more helpful to focus on supporting flowering plants than keeping bees (and those flowers can also help all of the thousands of pollinators at risk, not just honeybees.)
But the Andersons, who now work with a staff of 35 and are in the process of incorporating their startup, BeeInventive, as a B Corp, believe that by helping people connect with bees, the hives are also strengthening advocacy for pollinators. “You get this sense of a broader community,” says Anderson. “You’ll find that come Christmastime, your family is talking about politics, they don’t agree, but everyone agrees we need to save the bees. So we end up with this network now of 130 different countries with people talking about bees, and people joining forums, and people being incredibly passionate about the environment and about bees. I think it can only be a good thing.”