Community collaboration leads to a buzz-worthy product

bees in a hive

What happens when you pair a local entrepreneur with a group of senior chemical engineering students? A really sweet new product.

Jamel Rahkeera is a Cleveland native who started farming in 2009 with a small backyard plot, and in 2010, established Village Family Farms, an urban farm located in the nearby Hough neighborhood. His crops range from the traditional fruits and vegetables to herbs, a pollinator’s paradise garden and even hops. Rahkeera and his wife are also certified beekeepers and maintain one of Cleveland’s first bee apiaries. 

Photo of Henry Squire working in a lab using protective gear
Henry Squire
 

In addition to the produce and cultivated honey the Village Family Farm team sells at local farmer’s markets, Rahkeera wondered if there was a way to develop an additional value-added product derived from his agricultural produce. So, he reached out to Daniel Lacks, chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the C. Benson Branch Professor of Chemical Engineering, to see if he might be able to help. It turned out to be a natural fit.

“The chemical engineering department regularly partners local Cleveland companies with small groups of seniors as a part of their senior capstone projects,” shared Lacks. “The projects allow the students to gain real world experience by working on a project developed by a company partner.” 

Henry Squire (CWRU ‘20)  was one of the students assigned to work with Rahkeera.

“The goal was to turn the raw resources produced by Jamel’s farm into higher value goods. We looked into developing a variety of products like essential oils or even salsa before deciding on lip balm. One of Jamel’s most popular items is honey, which generates a beeswax byproduct. Turning this unused beeswax into a usable product became the obvious choice to the group.”

So, after many months of dialogue and working with Rahkeera, the group, which included Squire and graduated seniors Chloe Lee, Atirola Omilabu and Sidd Rajupet, put into practice a key component of the chemical engineering process: transforming a naturally derived resource (beeswax) into a higher value product (lip balm).

As a result of this joint collaboration, Rahkeera now sells his Bee Moist lip balm, cultivated from his own bee hives, locally. And this fall, more than 1,400 Bee Moist lip balms were given to the incoming first-year CWRU students during orientation.

Photo of two tubes of Bee Moist lipbalm

When asked about the experience, Rahkeera shared that the students were enthusiastic, professional and “really took ownership of the process. It felt like creating a product with a real company.” 

According to Squire, the collaboration was a great learning opportunity for the students.

“Collaborating with Jamel was a great experience because the project had real implications for his farm and livelihood. Typical class projects do not have such direct real world impacts. Jamel does amazing work in the community through Village Family Farms, so it was a privilege for us to work with him and support his mission.” 

Learn more about Jamel Rahkeera and the Village Family Farms.