University of Minnesota: Minnesota Law students help bee nonprofit to get airborne

When third-year law students Molly McKinsey and Edmund Pine signed up to spend last summer as practice scholars through Minnesota Law’s Corporate Institute, they knew they’d be busy helping local small business owners. What they didn’t know was that one of the things keeping them busy would be bees—or that they’d cap off the experience touring rooftop beehives and sampling fresh chocolate and honey at the shop of the chocolatier whom they had helped.

The practice scholars summer program allows students to gain valuable experience working with local businesses on projects that intersect business law practice with business law scholarship. At the same time, the program, like Minnesota Law’s Business Law Clinic, benefits the community by providing local business owners with free information and guidance. One of the services offered is a brief advice session managed by Professor Emily Buchholz, who ensures students have opportunities to both participate and observe the fact gathering process.

“The advice session is a short meeting with a small business owner or entrepreneur,” says Pine. “The sessions illuminate the concerns that small business owners have at various phases in their operations. Through these, we could often alleviate uncertainty and confusion by helping owners understand their own needs and then recommending different legal services based on fit.”

It was during such a session that Pine and McKinsey met Todd Marshall and Nick Wolferman, who, working with St. Paul-based chocolate shop Mademoiselle Miel, were seeking to establish a nonprofit called “Building Bees.” The group would be dedicated to supporting and training local beekeepers and educating the public on the ecological necessity of honeybees. Building Bees also plans to invest in low-income and BIPOC communities to better support essential green spaces.

While the connection between bees and chocolate may not be intuitive at first blush, it quickly becomes apparent looking at the offerings of Mademoiselle Miel, where honey-infused bonbons are a signature item. The shop maintains beehives on its roof to ensure a ready supply of the golden ingredient fresh at hand. The shop’s owner, Susan Brown, doubles as a beekeeper to keep the hives humming.

After conferring with Buchholz, McKinsey, and Pine about the legalities of spinning off the nonprofit, Mademoiselle Miel invited them to tour the shop. Brown showed them her shop’s rooftop hives, gave them a taste of honeycomb, and provided them samples of her chocolate paired with the fresh honey provided by the bees.

“They were so excited to show us their store and products, and to share their story,” says McKinsey, who wants to practice business law. “It was a privilege to see one of the businesses we worked with in person—a delicious and educational experience!”

Pine, who is also interested in practicing business law, raved about the experience as well. “I was able to get a behind-the-scenes look at a process that I previously knew little about and see the realization of someone’s entrepreneurial dream.”

The Business Law Clinic has taken Building Bees on as a client and will continue to work with the organization over the upcoming semester as it seeks to get established as a nonprofit.

McKinsey says being a practice scholar gave her an invaluable opportunity to apply her legal education to practical situations in her area of interest. “I would love to continue helping creative thinkers share their passion and vision with the community.”