The Business of Bees

The Story of a Man Who Fell in love with Bees and Started a Honey of a Business.

Photos by Austin Kuehl

A couple of years ago, Chad Gilliland didn’t even like bees. He says if he saw one, he would be more likely to shoo it away or just stay clear of it. Now, he’s covered in bees — literally. Gilliland is a “bee entrepreneur.” He manages a series of hives all over Leavenworth, Kansas, and uses the honey to make beauty and moisturizing products that are so in-demand, his presence at a farmers market creates a buzz.

Gilliland, a former landscape company manager, turned proprietor of Next to Nature Farm, turned agri-business maven, says he began beekeeping as a way to pollinate the fruit orchard on his farm, where he favors a pesticide-free approach. It took less than a year for him to envision a business based on honey bees. 

Chad Gilliland, Bee Keeper

“I began to see an opportunity to grow a business from keeping bees and all the byproducts that are produced by honeybees. I did a lot of research and joined the Northeast Kansas Beekeepers Association, asked a lot of questions and learned from seasoned beekeepers about beekeeping and all the value-added products that can be made from the byproducts of the beehive.”

Beeswax skin care

In 2016, Gilliland launched his first line of “Next to Nature Farm” beeswax skin care products that featured some honey or beeswax component. He credits his wife for helping him do all the research necessary to launch their first product and current best-sellers – the Comfrey Salve, Healing Salve and lotion bars.

“My wife and I did a ton of research on the medicinal and healing properties of natural herbs and essential oils.  We spent countless hours making sure that each and every ingredient component would work well and offer the specific medicinal properties we desired as well as the right natural moisturizing ingredient components that would complement the recipe.”

The beekeeper says the key to his success has been staying natural. “We always strive to ensure that the products we go to market with are harvested pesticide free and made without the use of preservatives, dyes or colorants. We want peace of mind for our customers that want to consume and use all-natural products. All of our ingredients components are grown here on our farm or are sourced organic.” 

Gilliland says plans are in the works to expand his bee business. Right now, his products mostly sell at farmers markets, (Next to Nature Farm has a booth at the Lenexa Public Market) but a storefront that offers education focused retail is in the works.

“Ultimately, we are looking to open a store on a farm setting that allows visitors to see up close a nonconventional farm that focuses on less than traditional farm commodities. We want to educate people about honey bees, have pesticide-free fruits and vegetables for sale along with select pollinator-friendly plants for their own garden and give them an old-time general store experience.”

If you ask Gilliland how he’s doing, he’ll smile and happily confess that he’s “as busy as a bee.”

Buzz Words

•  The honey bee is the only insect that produces food eaten by man.

•  The average worker bee produces only about 1/12th teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. 

•  A honey bee visits 50 to 100 flowers during a collection trip.

•  A colony of bees consists of 20,000-60,000 honeybees and one queen.

•  Bees fly at a speed of around 15 mph and beat their wings 200 times per second.

•  Only the female honey bee can sting.

•  Honey bees account for nearly 80 percent of crop pollination in the United States of America.