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Slow Food is family beekeeping for community wellness in Kohala, Hawaii.

Interview and words by Rachel Lankford

…she had no idea that honeybees (nalo meli) would become such an important part of her own family’s kuleana* and livelihood.  

Kailin Kim and Kai Hudgins are Hawaiian beekeepers in Kohala, Hawaii. Their journey to honeybees happened by sea and by land. 

Now, they remove bees from building interiors. They keep hives at their farm that support the orchard, flora, and fauna in the area. They’ve created an educational program for school children on the Big Island. They call it all Hoʻōla. To save, to heal, to thrive.

The kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiian) couple is one of very few keeping bees in the state. They put up their first hives when Kai’s father had trouble getting his avocado trees in Waimea to fruit, assuming it was a lack in pollination, and therein began their beekeeping journey.  The pair had already started exploring other ways to make a living when Kai found a beehive in a water meter box near their home. To find out how to remove bees and give them new homes, they did intensive research and studied videos of just that.  After the successful move of the bees from the meter box, Hoʻōla Honey Bee Relocation started in earnest.  

Kailin says that even skilled beekeepers ‘usually don’t have the carpentry skills’ to do the kinds of removals that they do. Kai’s experience as a carpenter makes it possible for them to remove bees from difficult locations. The couple work as a team to remove bees from the interiors of walls, restore the walls and give the bees a new home on their property. In one removal, Kai built a 30’ scaffold to move a 100-year-old hive located in a local church. Each year, they move about 36 hives. 

Kailin and Kai met on the Hōkūleʻa during the statewide sail in 2013 before the voyaging canoe left for its sail around the world. They met in Kawaihae and sailed to Molokaʻi, Maui, Kauaʻi and back to Oʻahu, on the escort boat and the canoe. They fell in love and now have two young sons. 

Kailin majored in Hawaiian Language and Agriculture at UH Hilo, where she studied beekeeping in one of her last classes of 2012. It was love at first flight. At the time, she had no idea that honeybees (nalo meli) would become such an important part of her own family’s kuleana* and livelihood.  

Kailin and Kai deeply care about the sustainability of pollinators in their community. Beekeepers in Hawaii who make a living primarily from the extraction of honey often move their hives around the island as different pollinator trees bloom.  Beekeepers may move their hives for a bloom like macadamia or Christmas berry (wilelaiki), and then move them to another location for the ʻōhiʻa lehua bloom. 

Kailin and Kai have chosen to keep their bees in Kohala year-round. This provides consistent pollination for backyard gardeners and local farms in their community.  Kailin explains, “We believe in keeping our bees close to home instead of moving them all the time or chasing honey.”  They are mindful of how much honey they harvest, ensuring that their bees have a reliable food source. 

Honeybees were imported to Hawaiʻi from California in 1857.  Kailin combs through old Hawaiian language newspapers of that time to learn what was said and thought about this new arrival to the island’s eco-systems. Honeybees were declared beneficial to everyone and causing no harm. The newspapers even advised people not to harass or bother the bees. After several decades, honey became a marketable product for export.  

Kailin and Kai source their honey from the bees they have removed or swarms they have collected. Until the pandemic they sold their honey and honey-related products at the Wednesday Farmers Market in Waimea.

The couple’s educational program helps children connect bees to the foods they eat and products used. The program teaches about bee behavior, colony life and the threats of pesticides, viruses and insects (varroa mites, wax moths and small hive beetles).  

To connect the learning to their Hawaiian culture, they explain bees using principles of voyaging: The bees work cooperatively, as is necessary on a waʻa (voyaging canoe). Honeybees use the sun for navigation. They each contribute to the well-being of the entire hive.  

As for the future, Kai and Kailin are planning to build a workshop where they can hold classes on their property. Kailin is working on a Hive-to-Table project. She’s involved in Slow Food Hawaii and may be a delegate to Terra Madre/Salone del Gusto in April 2021. The couple’s eldest son already says that he wants to be a beekeeper when he grows up. The family business continues to grow and blossom. 

The bees work cooperatively, as is necessary on a waʻa, or voyaging canoe. Honeybees use the sun for navigation. They each contribute to the well-being of the entire hive.  

A final note: Bee removal is time-consuming and costly.  The couple receives grants through North Kohala Community Resource Center to help local families afford the cost of the removals.  To make a tax-deductible donation to support this work, here’s the NKCRC website.

Currently, you can find Hoʻōla products online!

*Kuleana is a uniquely Hawaiian practice and value which honors reciprocal responsibility between a person and the object or being for whom they are responsible.