Allen Kracower has had a lot hobbies over the years.
He’s bred dogs, kept horses and has been an avid hunter.
In recent years, however, those activities have largely given way to what has become Kracower’s greatest passion: beekeeping.
And that passion has just as much to do with the thoughtful process of beekeeping as it does with giving.
The Milwaukee native donates all of the money raised from the sale of the honey — minus his expenses — to tzedakah.
Kracower picked up the pastime about 10 years ago when his wife Caryn was battling breast cancer, and today much of the proceeds from the sales go to a fund at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital that helps cancer patients pay for things not covered by health insurance, such as babysitting or transportation to chemotherapy. Caryn got the idea to start the fund while undergoing treatment at the hospital and noticing people struggling to pay for such incidentals.
While Kracower appreciates that his hard work raising the bees and harvesting their honey has managed to help others, what he relishes most is just the simple act of keeping bees and the time he spends caring for and observing the remarkable creatures that play such a vital role in our world’s ecosystem.
The 79-year-old keeps the bees at his home in Lake Forest, Ill., in the Chicago suburbs where he has about five acres.
“Watching the bees and learning about them is fascinating. They are just resilient little insects,” he said.
Kracower typically has between 15 and 20 hives. Each hive holds around 40,000 to 50,000 bees, plus a queen, and produces anywhere from 800 to 1,000 pounds of honey per year.
“In our area queens live one or two years, and then are replaced by the other bees in the hive,” he said. “It’s like a political election.”
Today the Kracowers’ honey, called “Lake Forest Honey by Allen,” is sold at Sunset Foods, a supermarket in Lake Forest.
This year was a tough one for Kracower and other bee keepers, Kracower said. He himself lost hives at the beginning of the year.
“Flowers didn’t germinate on time, and bees couldn’t get out because of the cold and rain,” he said. “I am not sure how many hives I have left.”
Kracower doesn’t use chemicals in his beekeeping operation. While it can make beekeeping more of a challenge, it makes the honey the bees produce sought after by cancer patients and others.
That’s a point of pride for Kracower, whose wife and daughter have survived cancer.
Although he has never produced honey specifically for Rosh Hashanah, he does give Jewish friends jars of the honey for their use during the holiday.
“People of all different faiths and religions all have one thing in common, and that is the interest in the honey bee,” Kracower said. “Nobody cares who you are when you’re a beekeeper.”