Flint, MI—Jason Bey has a deep, soulful baritone voice—the kind that sounds like it should be announcing the next track on an evening R&B radio program.
“I have done voiceover acting,” Bey said. Years ago, he took a class at his alma mater, Saginaw Valley State, and has since voiced a few cartoons, but nothing for pay.
“I just wanted to do it for fun,” Bey said. “Just to see how it would go.”
Such is Bey’s attitude about many things. He is always curious, always interested in learning something new.
That’s how he came to start his business, My Bees Nest, LLC, an apiary, or collection of beehives, that produces honey and beeswax products from its location on Flint’s north side.
“One day, I went to the farmers’ market, and I saw a person selling honey,” Bey explained. He was interested in trying the vendor’s fresh, local honey and was fascinated with the honeycomb on display.
“So I asked the lady, ‘Um, we can do beekeeping in Michigan?’ and she said ‘Yeah.’”
Bey got the woman’s card to follow up and immediately started Googling information and watching YouTube videos on beekeeping. He was enamored with the process, its technicalities, and science and felt that he could set up his own apiary relatively simply.
“So I said, you know what? I’m going to go for it,” Bey said.
He bought materials and constructed a few hives before asking his cousin, Devonte Roberts, for support.
“He called me one day and just said ‘Hey, I need you to drive me to go pick up these bees,’” Roberts recalled, laughing.
Roberts said he knew enough about Bey’s constant curiosity to realize that all he could do was say “okay” to the request. The pair picked up three boxes of bees from another Genesee County beekeeper later that day.
That was in late 2020, and Bey has since set up six hives in his home’s yard. They stand neatly in a row, their barn-red paint almost camouflaging them into the surrounding wood fencing.
Bey is ecstatic to share his knowledge, and even his failures, with anyone interested in learning about his urban beekeeping operation.
“This sucks, but I need to show it,” Bey said, snow crunching under his boots as he walked over to a particular hive. “It broke my heart … they survived all the way up until this last cold front.”
Bey’s baritone vibrated with a tinge of sadness as he spoke of losing his bees to Michigan’s winter, but it has happened to many more seasoned beekeepers. After all, he noted, controlling for bee-killing varroa mites and providing appropriate food supplies can still be foiled by fluctuating weather conditions and the bees’ own winter preparation.
Always optimistic, though, Bey said he’s just glad to have learned early on that he may need to do more preparation next winter.
Bey opened the hive to show how bees naturally cluster for warmth in the cold months. He pointed out the honey still inside: some of it amber-colored and some a soft yellow.
“You have your lighter color for the spring and you have a darker color for the colder months,” Bey said, explaining that the hue changes based on the flowers available to the bees at the time of production.
He brought out jars full of each honey varietal from inside his home, ready for sale or shipment with his ‘My Bees Nest LLC’ labels affixed to their glass.
“The most I’ve had from these hives is 80 gallons of honey,” Bey said, proudly, sweeping his free arm over the whole operation before setting the jars atop another nearby hive.
Bey is only in the beginning stages of My Bees Nest, LLC, but he’s garnered a lot of local support already. He’s been featured on Flint SOUP, won third place at a local pitch competition in January, and he just had a small loan funded through a platform called Kiva in early March. He also is one of the first businesses on Flint’s newly launched ‘Shop Flint’ site.
Bey said he’s both grateful and overwhelmed by the attention for his small apiary business, which he never expected to go this far. Now, however, he’s most excited about expanding his apiary’s footprint and educating others.
Bey said he wants to use Flint’s vacant lots, in areas where there’s less foot traffic, to keep more bees, using the spaces as an “educational hub.”
“(I could) have at least four to six hives there, and use that as a hub where you could come, look at the bees, learn, practice harvesting honey,” he said.
Concluding his apiary tour, Bey shared a thought on what his journey to founding My Bees Nest has taught him so far.
“I mean, this is like—I don’t want to say it’s a dream—but it’s become something more than a dream right now,” he said, putting a lid back on a hive. “The more I’ve gotten into beekeeping and learning about this work and relating it to the larger ecosystem—how we live, and what we need to survive—it’s heartfelt now.”