Beekeeping is “pretty fun,” according to 13-year-old Keith Griffith III of Louisville.
He loves watching his honey bees at work, particularly when they’re defending their hives.
“I like when we get the honey and we harvest it, is my favorite part about doing beekeeping,” he said. “It’s pretty satisfying watching the honey drip down.”
The young beekeeper has built a proper bee farm, with the necessary paperwork and nine hives. It’s an endeavor that recently earned him the first-place Bayer Blue Ribbon Beekeeper Award, a national accolade acknowledging the next generation of beekeepers.
He was in disbelief when he learned he had received that top honor and a $3,000 cash prize.
“I was excited cause we got a call saying that you guys won the award and I was like, ‘No way,’” Griffith said.
He’s built an entire business around beekeeping called Beeing2together, with an online shop that sells all kinds of branded merch, as well as his honey — his honey can also be found at Rainbow Blossom’s St. Matthews location — and a book, which he self-published in 2019. It’s titled “Honey Bees & Beekeeping: A Mental Health Miracle.”
“Yes, I wrote a book,” he said. “It has some parts of mental health and what you need for beekeeping and how to start a beehive. It gives you tips and tricks.”
Those mental health parts came from a personal place for Griffith. He got into beekeeping to distract himself from “personal things.”
“I needed something to take my mind off of what was going on,” Griffith said.
“He had went through a trauma time,” Griffith’s mother, Stephanie Dukes said.
She and Griffith had always been close; they did nearly everything together.
Then, in late 2017, Dukes was incarcerated. She said she was in prison for a year and 22 days. Griffith’s father was already in prison.
Dukes doesn’t “care to tell my story.” She doesn’t want her son “to relive that, because it took a lot out of him.”
“It’s always been like mom and son, and it was taken away from him,” Dukes said. “When I was gone, he kind of diminished with his personality, depression and stuff like that.”
Griffith’s grades declined during his mother’s absence. It was a tough time for both of them. But it was also when Griffith got into beekeeping, thanks to his uncle, Shawn Griffith, who had become a hobbyist gardener and beekeeper.
His uncle basically threw a beekeeping suit at the kid one day and asked him to help with the hives.
“I thought it was a little bit crazy,” Dukes said when she learned that her son, then age 11, was getting into beekeeping. “But my son, he’s always been into nature… Since when he was younger, he wants to go outside and pick up rocks, look under a rock, see what’s there. He’s always been very inquisitive about anything outside.”
Dukes said her son did a total 180.
“It is [an] amazing transformation. He took this negative and turned it into a positive.”
And as he learned more about beekeeping, Keith Griffith III saw parallels to his own life.
“Diligent observation of the honey bees began to open (Keith’s) eyes to the queen bee’s role and importance to her hive just as his mother and grandmothers are the foundation and key to (Keith’s) own family’s survival,” according to the about section of his 2019 book.
Worker bees also helped him see the importance of community “and unity both inside and outside of the home by demonstrating love, strength and protection.”
He still cares for that first hive, which is in his grandmother’s yard, Dukes said.
“He calls them the OG’s because they give him a time,” she said. “They are very stubborn.”
Griffith’s dedication to beekeeping, and his fledgling beekeeping business, has gotten the attention of national media recently, such as Good Morning America.
It’s also gotten the attention of other young people.
Just about everyday, they hear from a young person through his Instagram, saying that his story is motivating them to start their own business or pursue a passion, Dukes said.
“I think that is just a neat way of him inspiring other children… that it’s okay to step outside the box and just do something that you love to do,” Dukes said.
That includes his friend John Rice, who got into beekeeping because of Griffith and enjoys the adrenaline rush of getting real close to the honey bees.
“I like how I’m nervous when I’m going out to see how the bees move and how they make the honey.”
Friend Derrick Rice, another recent beekeeping convert who has also helped Griffith sell his honey at the Farmers Market at Opportunity Community Garden in the Russell neighborhood, said he likes to talk about the merits and thrills of beekeeping with his friends at school.
“I like seeing how the bees work and how they prepare for the winter, and how the honey is made, so I can tell other people.”
Griffith is at work on a second book, one that will focus more on mental health.
“I just want to talk about more how I dealt with it… go more in detail,” he said.
In terms of his business, he wants to become the go-to for people wanting local honey, and grow it to 1,200 hives, or really as many as he can get.
Now, he’ll be able to focus more on saving up to build that.
Griffith had been putting a fair share of his business revenue aside to pay for his dream school, Trinity High School. Then, this fall, an anonymous donor, known only as Mrs. W, recently sent a check to cover his tuition to the private Louisville school.