Years ago, James Cook and Samantha Jones left their pet Kat at home. After a few hours, they returned to see the feathered and flying member of the family covered from wingtip to wingtip in honey. That became the basis of their Iola business, Bird and Bees Honey selling the raw secretion and candles came to be.
The preposterous parrot is the official mascot for Bird and the Bees Honey. Cook – who was raised in Amherst – first learned the trade alongside Jones from a friend in Minnesota whom they worked for over seven years. After their five-year plan to strike out on their own came due, they emerged into a COVID-19-ravaged world where they quickly answered the question of whether to continue.
“We bought the farm we live on in 2018,” Cook says. “We laid all the groundwork to expand Bird and the Bees Honey but then looked at each other and asked ‘Are we upstream here, is this a good idea?’ The first week we were shellshocked but did come back to reality to some extent. Obviously, throughout the pandemic, people still needed farmers to maintain food. So, we decided to see what happens and go with it. The nice part is in beekeeping, you don’t see people unless you want to. No social gatherings really made it easy to put our noses to the grindstones.”
Bird and Bees Honey pollination
In the time since, Bird and the Bees Honey – which did not qualify for federal assistance during the heights of the pandemic – has expanded throughout central Wisconsin and is featured in stores like The Local. When the seasons change and the temperatures fall, the bees they have in their various hives do not produce as much honey. To get around this those bees are instead packed into flatbed trucks and shipped to California to help with pollinating other products like almonds.
This is a little bit more complex than what some on X/Twitter view as only a “hobby.” For Cook, has been eye-opening to just how much managed pollination is desired.
“There is more than even I was aware of,” he says. “Onion flowers need to be pollinated, a whole host of different fruits and vegetables utilize the services of beekeepers and you can make really cool connections. We are educating people that there are other avenues for income here.”
In the future, Cook and Jones expect they will continue to be stung while on the job. They also want to add more honey flavors to their product slate and introduce some fun candle molds. Whatever the case, they have certainly made an impression on those who have taken a chance on what their bees build up.
“We will always buy and always recommend,” Jessica Aaron writes in an April 2021 Facebook product review. “I enjoy the light flavor of sage in my yogurt. Thank you for such sweet honey.”
More information about Bird and the Bees Honey can be found at birdandthebees.com.
Evan J. Pretzer is a freelance contributor to City Pages. He can be reached at evanjpretzer.com or [email protected].