AP

‘Crazy’ beekeepers determined to make it in tough times

Oct 19, 2020, 5:23 AM
Beekeeper James Cook works on hives near Iola, Wis., on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Cook and his wif...
Beekeeper James Cook works on hives near Iola, Wis., on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Cook and his wife, Samantha Jones, have worked with honey bees for several years but started their own business this year — and proceeded with plans even after the coronavirus pandemic hit. (AP Photo/Carrie Antlfinger)
(AP Photo/Carrie Antlfinger)

IOLA, Wis. (AP) — They wrote it right into their business plan -– an expectation that, each year, at least half the stock on which their livelihood depends would die.

Building a business around bees is not for the faint-hearted. “You have to be a little crazy,” says James Cook, who, with wife Samantha Jones, started beekeeping eight years ago. They knew well the challenges their bees face –- parasites and the impact of pesticides among them.

Even so, they were hopeful. 2020 was to be their year to go off on their own, after working several years for another beekeeper. They and their bees spent the past winter in California’s massive almond orchards, full of white blossoms that turn into nuts, thanks to the many beekeepers who travel extensively with their hives to pollinate many of the nation’s crops.

Then the coronavirus hit and, for a moment, Cook and Jones panicked.

“Do we stay? Do we go?” they asked each other. By that time, they had packed up their tent and trucked their hives from California’s San Joaquin Valley to another temporary home in the state’s foothills, where the bees could “detox” from the agricultural work.

There, they raised “nucs” — hive starter-kits, of sorts, with new queens — which they sell to other beekeepers to replace bees that inevitably die over the course of a season. This work and the almond pollination each represent about a third of their business.

But they didn’t want to get stuck in California’s pandemic shutdown. The other third of their business was in their permanent base of Wisconsin, where they own a farmhouse and spend the summer honey season.

Deemed essential agricultural workers in a line of work that’s generally quite solitary, they decided to wait it out. Then they and the bees trekked back to Iola, Wisconsin. There, marshaling their 750 bee colonies, they would set out to create their brand, Bird and the Bees Honey.

The bird in the title is Kat, their free-ranging parrot who often rides in the cab of their truck and who also happens to like honey.

This summer, Cook and Jones and their small crew worked day and night to build an extraction and bottling facility out of old semi trailers.

They were exhausted and in debt, having taken on loans to get the business up and running – but also excited.

Jones, 38, noted how much of the honey available in grocery stores is blended and cooked. “It would lose all those fine, delicate flavors that honey has,” she says. “And I thought that people deserved good honey.”

Unlike other agricultural crops, honey also can be stored indefinitely. That’s fortunate since the pandemic has left them fewer outlets for sales; farmers’ markets have been limited and restaurants and breweries have cut back, as well.

Cook, 35, says the experience of starting a business in these challenging times will make them more resilient.

“I think beekeeping sort of taught me (that) inside of this space of sheer chaos and uncertainty and fear and danger, in a lot of ways, you kind of need to look for the optimism and the beauty that you can find,” he says. “Because otherwise, it’s really hard to wake up in the morning.”

___

Antlfinger reported from Wisconsin and Irvine from Chicago. Terry Chea, an AP reporter based in California, also contributed to this report.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories

AP

quit their jobs...
PAUL WISEMAN AP Economics Writer

US added a strong 517,000 jobs in January despite Fed hikes

The Fed is aiming to achieve a "soft landing" — a pullback in the economy that is enough to tame high inflation without triggering recession.
3 days ago
Thousands of fraudulent nursing diplomas  were dispersed in Florida. (Canva)...
Associated Press via Miami Herald

Fake nursing diploma scheme in Florida; 25 arrested

The defendants each face up to 20 years in prison.
4 days ago
Microsoft is cutting 10,000 workers, almost 5% of its workforce, in response to "macroeconomic cond...
MATT O'BRIEN, Associated Press

Job cuts in tech sector spread, Microsoft lays off 10,000

Microsoft said in a regulatory filing Wednesday that had just notified employees of the layoffs, some of which begin immediately.
19 days ago
exxon mobil sign pictured...
SETH BORENSTEIN and CATHY BUSSEWITZ Associated Press

Study: Exxon Mobil accurately predicted warming since 1970s

Exxon said its understanding of climate change evolved over the years and that critics are misunderstanding its earlier research.
25 days ago
FILE - Protesters, supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro, stand on the roof of the...
The Associated Press

Brazil and Jan. 6 in US: Parallel attacks, but not identical

RIO DE JANIERO, Brazil — Enraged protesters broke into government buildings that are the very symbol of their country’s democracy. Driven by conspiracy theories about their candidate’s loss in the last election, they smashed windows, sifted through the desks of lawmakers and trashed the highest offices in the land in a rampage that lasted hours […]
27 days ago
President Joe Biden pictured...
ZEKE MILLER AP White House Correspondent

DOJ reviewing potentially classified docs at Biden center

Special counsel to the president Richard Sauber said “a small number of documents with classified markings” were discovered at the offices of the Penn Biden Center.
28 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...
Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer, the tests that can warn women about potential cancer, and the importance of vaccination.
Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy. This year the event will be held from January 27-29 at the Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina and Sunrise Resort and Event Center in Garden City, Utah. 
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...
Macey's

15 Easy Christmas Dinner Ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy. Choose from the dishes we’ve highlighted to plan your meal or start brainstorming your own meal plan a couple of weeks before to make sure you have time to shop and prepare.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The Best Tools for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Workplace Success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
‘Crazy’ beekeepers determined to make it in tough times