Craft Culture: Caretakers of skin and pollinators at Worker B

Growing Big, Sourcing Small

Worker B's line of skincare products are all made with honey and beeswax sourced from small beekeepers // Photo by Ryan Siverson

Worker B’s line of skincare products are all made with honey and beeswax sourced from small beekeepers // Photo by Ryan Siverson

By 2011, Mike and Liesa moved their fledgling business out of their home kitchen and into a studio in the Northrup King Building, a space in Northeast Minneapolis where more than 200 artists and small businesses work.  For the next four years, they drilled down on expanding Worker B’s line: T-shirts, candles, more skincare, and even honey from beekeepers they met while traveling the country.

Their trajectory as a wholesale company shifted, though, when the Mall of America invited Worker B to its 2015 holiday pop-up store. That temporary opportunity segued into an even bigger break: a permanent brick and mortar location in the mall.

Over the years, Worker B had always sold a few jars of honey to friends, but with a store at one of the largest malls in the world, Mike and Liesa ramped up their efforts. They realized Worker B could be more than just a skincare line; their company could be a vehicle to support beekeepers around the world.

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Photos by Ryan Siverson

Worker B turned honey sourcing into an art. Forget the plastic bear. Forget what you know about the monotonous sticky treat that’s a staple on grocery store shelves. Worker B’s honey selection rotates weekly and features jars from up to 40 artisanal beekeepers at any time. Each amber or golden-colored liquid is like a time machine; one taste and you’re transported to a different time and place. The Northwest’s wet and cool climate lends itself to massive blackberry yields, while the Midwest is home to large amounts of clover, alfalfa, and basswood; each imparts a distinct flavor on the regional honey.

“Because they’re small, local beekeepers, you get an individual honey flavor that hasn’t been mixed into something or cooked to death,” says Mike, who often stocks small-batch or hard-to-find honeys that range in taste from cotton candy and mint, to eucalyptus and butterscotch. “[We want to] make sure we’re getting as close to what local is, regardless of the geography. Local is relative.”

“Because they’re small, local beekeepers, you get an individual honey flavor that hasn’t been mixed into something or cooked to death.”

– Michael Sedlacek

In other words, Worker B champions small-time beekeepers—the bee nerds who have a passion for winged insects and care about the health of the hive, not just mass pollination. The plight of the pollinator isn’t new: rapid disease spread, chemical pesticides, and a mono-crop culture that relies on shipping huge numbers of bees around the country to pollinate citrus and almonds have hurt bees. However, with its new store and larger presence, Worker B finally had the platform to move beyond retail and advocate for beekeepers and honeybees in a new way.

This year, Mike and Liesa will branch out from their skincare background to launch a nonprofit dedicated to increasing the number of sustainable beekeepers at home and abroad. Internationally, the goal is to help developing nations capitalize on beekeeping traditions that have been alive for generations through advanced education that will produce stronger hives, healthier bees, and higher profits. Domestically, the nonprofit will support targeted projects that might explore organic treatments to control beetles and mites, managed breeding programs, or how to isolate pollen sources to develop unique honey profiles.

“There’s a built-in sense of adventure. Every year is different than the year before,” Mike says of beekeeping. “The challenge is always there to do it a little better. The problem-solving aspect never goes away.”

Beekeepers examine a box // Photo by Ryan Siverson

Beekeepers examine a box // Photo by Ryan Siverson

For Worker B, honey isn’t just an ingredient in skincare or something cool that bees make; it’s a connector. It’s an expression of the unique slice of world that surrounds each hive.

“Bees make me look at every plant completely different. The honey is a direct reflection of what they’re feeding from,” says Liesa, who once received a jar of honey from Guatemala when a woman came to visit her son in Minnesota. “It’s like bringing a part of where you grew up. I will probably never get to go to the jungle where it was grown, I don’t know what flowers it comes from, and I won’t be able to see those bees, but I get to taste that environment. That’s the most magical thing about honey.”

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