BABE #245: HILARY KEARNEY - Founder, Girl Next Door Honey
Hilary is the owner of Girl Next Door Honey, a beekeeping company on a mission to raise San Diego’s bee population and spread awareness about the importance and vitality of bees. Through natural beekeeping classes, apiary management, classroom presentations, beehive tours, live bee removals and beyond, Hilary is inspiring others to learn and care about the health and survival of bees and their positive, crucial impact on our environment.
Hometown: San Diego, California
Current city: San Diego, California
Alma mater: UC Santa Cruz
Degree: B.A., Fine Art
Very first job: Barista
Hustle: Founder, Girl Next Door Honey
Babe you admire and why?
I really admire Dolly Parton because she’s smart and funny and she has a wonderful way of turning criticisms on their head. She is a gorgeous woman, but she has found a way to not let that eclipse her true self. Too often this is the only attribute people seem to really value in women.
Go-to coffee order and/or adult beverage?
A bee’s knees!
What would you eat for your very last meal?
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
What’s something most don’t know about you?
I love horror movies and Halloween.
Tell us about your hustle.
I run my own beekeeping business called Girl Next Door Honey. I don’t have any employees, so I do a lot of different things. Through the business I offer several different services: beekeeping classes, classroom presentations, backyard hive maintenance and live bee removal. I also write articles about beekeeping and I have two books coming out this year. I have an online shop where I sell things I make, e.g. a game I created to teach kids about bees. I do all my own branding and design work. Plus, I create a lot of content for social media, particularly Instagram. Not to mention answering tons of emails, fielding calls and all the boring accounting stuff.
What does your typical workday look like?
I usually start my day by answering emails and coming up with what to post on Instagram. Then, I usually have a few appointments. It might be visiting a classroom to teach kids about bees, checking up on one of my beehives or meeting with a beekeeping student to troubleshoot a problem in their hive. In spring and summer I do a lot of bee removal work; I might do any of the above and then also catch a swarm of bees. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I take days off, but really these are not days off, they are just days I spend at home catching up on writing, business planning or product development.
What inspired Girl Next Door Honey? What has its evolution been like since you created it?
When I first started beekeeping, I was merely pursuing an intense curiosity. I picked up a beekeeping book by chance and became a little obsessed with learning about bees. I was so shocked by how complicated they are. It evolved very organically into a business. After word got out that I was a beekeeper, more and more people started asking me for things and these requests became the basis of the services I offer now. The biggest thing for me is to educate people about bees and hopefully inspire people to do something to help them.
What advice would you give to someone who has a fear of bees?
Bees are just incredible. They can recognize human faces, they communicate through dance and everything they make (honey, wax propolis, beeswax) has some medicinal value. They are so complicated and interesting. Anyone who is afraid of them should start following me on Instagram; the things you learn about them will blow your mind. I have had so many people tell me that they used to be afraid of bees, but because of the things they’ve learned from following me, they’re no longer afraid.
What is the biggest threat to bees? What can people do to help?
I think the biggest issue bees face are systemic pesticides. This class of pesticide works differently from what was used in the past, because it penetrates the plant tissue. It’s inside the leaves, pollen and nectar and it can last for years. Many of the plants we buy from nurseries are pretreated with it. Many cities use it in their landscape maintenance. It’s used in commercial agriculture. Our whole environment is contaminated with it. The problem is the way it impacts bees indirectly; they do not die immediately, but are slowly weakened over time. What it does is compromise the bee immune system, making them vulnerable to other stressors. So when you combine pesticide exposure with climate change or an outbreak of disease the bees are less able to survive than they normally would.
What’s been your biggest career milestone?
In 2014, after four years of running this business and working a 40-hour-a-week office job, I took the leap and went full-time. Since then, I have not looked back, and I’m really proud of being able to make a living as a beekeeper in one of the most expensive cities in the United States.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
I notice I’m not given the benefit of the doubt. People assume my dad or some male relative taught me how to keep bees. People assume I am a hobbyist who will work for free and/or who has a limited knowledge of bees. People even sometimes assume I’m not capable of doing the work they hired me to do (like cutting into a wall with a circular saw so I can access the hive I need to remove). I think we all need to work on our unconscious biases. It’s better to ask questions that don’t have any assumptions in them. For example, I’m often asked, “How did you get into beekeeping?” But they usually add, “Did your dad teach you?” They could just ask me the first part. No one ever asks, “Did your mom teach you?” So, this is definitely coming from a preconceived notion that it’s unusual for a young woman to be a beekeeper and that she likely would not pursue it without the help of a man.
What’s the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
I do think there are more women getting into beekeeping. It’s traditionally a very male dominated industry, but I hope that’s changing and I hope I have had some small part in that. I often receive messages from other women who tell me I inspired them to start keeping bees or to pursue it as a business. It’s a really nice feeling.
Who are some women in your field that you look to for inspiration?
I’m inspired by Eliese Watson of ABC bees. She operates out of Alberta, Canada. I met her a few years ago at a conference and when she presented about her work, it literally brought me to tears. I’m inspired by how much she gets done and specifically her business skills. She’s not afraid to ask for what she’s worth.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
When it comes to life and business, I often read that women are statistically less willing to take risks. I think pushing yourself to take risks is really important for figuring out what you want to do. I took a big risk when I left my full-time office job to pursue my business full-time, and it has really paid off. However, I also think there should be more conversation about how a conservative approach to business can be an asset, as well. I have watched several male colleagues start a business and grow tremendously only to have it fail in the time I have been steadily growing my business.
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