From Tanglewood to a Mud Hut
Hello! My name is Katherine Milling, and I am from the wonderful city of Fort Worth! While I love the great state of Texas, I have been living in Zambia for the past 4 years and wanted to share my story with you.
Zambia is a beautiful landlocked country in southern Africa, and I first learned about it when I was nominated to go as a Peace Corps Volunteer. My oldest brother inspired me to join after he went to Haiti when I was just 9 years old. In 2014, I was at the perfect point in my life where I knew I could apply, and off I went! While it was extremely difficult to leave my family and friends for a 2 year commitment abroad, I quickly gained a new family and network of loved ones.
As a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia, you live in the village you are assigned and work with the community members in a specific project area. I was a Community Health Volunteer, so my focus was on nutrition, maternal and child health, and malaria prevention. I was placed in the Northwestern province of Zambia, in a dense forest area just 20 miles away from the Angola and Democratic Republic of the Congo borders. I lived in a mud hut with no water or electricity, getting water from a nearby stream and charging my phone and computer through solar panels. I learned and speak the local language, which helped me create trust and wonderful bonds within my community. I absolutely loved it. The community was more than welcoming and truly accepted me for who I was. We accomplished a lot together, including starting youth leadership camps and clubs, as well as obtaining a hammer mill for a female scholarship program and loan program. I also worked closely with the beekeeping cooperative in my village, as I had a bit of experience with bees in the states. Those 2 years were the most challenging and rewarding years of my life, and I highly recommend you to apply for Peace Corps if you can!
While a volunteer, I was lucky enough to meet the love of my life. Kyle and I just got married this past October, and we are forever grateful that Zambia brought us together. We fell in love with this country, and both knew we weren’t ready to leave after our services were complete. After 3 months of traveling and enjoying time with loved ones back home, we moved back to Zambia to start our new jobs. We worked for a honey production company and their partner, managing 12,000 beehives spread out all over the country. Long story short, there were many operational difficulties we encountered, and after one year of working there we decided to take the leap and start our own company!
It took many late night planning sessions creating budgets and operation outlines, but in January of this year Nature’s Nectar came to life. We wanted to find a way to create a sustainable honey company that reached the most vulnerable communities, so we moved back to the Northwestern province of Zambia. This area is the highest honey producing area in the country, and most rural farmers are also beekeepers. Traditionally, farmers will strip a tree of its bark to create a log style beehive, which then kills that tree. Just a few generations ago, this was a sustainable practice, with farmers having 5-15 hives per household. With the demand for honey rising and the income generated from selling honey desirable, farmers now have anywhere from 100-250 hives each, thereby slowly but surely killing thousands of trees in the local forest. Our company shifts farmers from these bark hives to sustainably produced, top bar pine hives, which last 3-4 times longer than the bark hives. They are easier to harvest and produce more honey, which is a win-win for everyone involved. Our main goals are to provide an income that is long term, is enough of an alternative income to not have to cut down local trees for charcoal making, and also is enough of an income that people don’t have to poach wild animals for money.
While it’s terrifying and challenging to run our own business, we have been soaking up every minute of this experience and are so grateful for this opportunity. We currently have 1000 hives out in the field, with 100 farmers having 10 hives each. As a startup, our largest cost is the beehive itself, at $25 each. Our goal is to reach 50,000 beehives within our first 5 years, so we have a long way to go! We just launched a campaign to raise funds for 500 hives, and would love any support from my hometown neighborhood. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram to stay up to date on what we’re doing, and don’t hesitate to reach out! We love hearing from fellow beekeepers or anyone interested in learning more about what we do!
Katherine Milling is a native Texan living in Zambia. She went to the University of Texas at Austin, and shortly after graduation, left for Zambia to join the Peace Corps. Katherine met her husband while a volunteer, and they now own and manage a sustainable honey social enterprise in Northwestern Zambia.