When Kendal Sager was in first grade, she had an epiphany during a field trip to Hidden Villa, an organic farm and educational nonprofit located in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
"I loved it!" she remembers, "but when I came home and told my parents I wanted to be a farmer, they laughed and said, 'You're in Silicon Valley—you've got to like computers.'"
Sager did like computers, so much so that she studied computer science in college and eventually launched a career as a technical director at DreamWorks Animation, where she helped bring characters to life for such movies as Kung Fu Panda. "But in the back of my head, I always thought, maybe I'll get to have a farm when I'm older," she says.
Today the Alameda resident has her "farm": As founder of the four-year-old business Sager Family Farm, she is now a full-time nature educator, teaching both children and adults about urban farming around the Bay Area.
It all really started back in 2011 when she installed her first backyard beehive—beekeeping, she says, is the most convenient type of farming: "It's actually a great side gig for techies. You're not supposed to open hives during the day, so you can only work with the bees on nights and weekends. They are literally easier to take care of than my cat."
Sager prepares to open the hives for her "Bee-ginning" beekeeping class in her Alameda backyard.(Megan Cheek)
From the outside, Sager's little brown house, a block from Lincoln Park, looks like most of Alameda's bungalows: quaint and well-maintained. Except for the sign on the front door ("Here for the bees?"), which directs visitors down the driveway and into the backyard. Enter Sager's suburban farm, home not just to her and her cat but also to two sheep, Coco and Marshmallow; six chickens; and about 100,000 bees, housed in just three hives that resemble children's furniture, each painted in a playful shade of fuchsia, orange, or yellow. Sager is the bees' steward, ensuring they have warmth, afternoon shade, water, and security from predators so that they can do their jobs.
"Farming is technical, and every animal on a farm, and every bee in a hive, has its own job. As a beekeeper, you've just got to keep everything in order so the bees can do those jobs," explains Sager, who learned the ropes and earned her California Master Beekeeper certificate at UC Davis. Now she's living her dream.
"I've got a lot of hard-working ladies here," she says, pointing to the mostly female worker bees. "They do all of the hard work: from collecting food, guarding the hive, feeding the queen, and making honey." She pauses and smiles, "Females really are the most valuable when it comes to bees. That's pretty cool."
Sager readily shares her love of beekeeping with students at Bay Area schools—the hives were specially designed to be transported into classrooms so that kids can both see and touch a working beehive. "We talk about how bees collect pollen and nectar and how that contributes to the foods we eat. It's really an engaging experience that the kids love."
But the little ones aren't alone in getting abuzz over the bees: Sager also offers weekend "Bee-ginning Beekeeping" classes for adults in her own backyard. "We gear up in our beekeeping suits, take a tour of the hives, and taste the honey." So far, the techie-turned-farmer has taught more than 2,500 beekeeping novices.
But about that honey. She harvests in the late spring and early summer to make raw, creamed, and infused honeys (hey, jalapeño), beeswax lip balms, and soaps.
// Bee-ginning beekeeping classes ($49) and private beekeeping classes ($125/four people) can be booked at sagerfamilyfarm.com.
An adult student holds up beeswax tray covered in bees during a beekeeping class.(Megan Cheek)
This editorial feature is the third in a series celebrating women entrepreneurs. See our latest post, on Sunshine Thammarin, a native of Thailand who's sharing the flavors of her home country inside her Mission kitchen. The series is sponsored by Sava, a women-founded, women-led company that makes it their mission to support other women-owned businesses. Sava founders Andrea Brooks and Amanda Denz have created a different kind of cannabis experience, one with high-quality standards, transparency in sourcing, education around the plant, and strong customer support. They've sought out partnerships with women who make exceptional cannabis products, and as a result, half the brands you'll find in Sava's online marketplace are women-owned. Shop the complete offering at getsava.com.