In the heart of downtown Birmingham, surrounded by tall buildings and bustling streets, thriving bee hives are housed on the rooftop garden of a loft building. The hives belong to Chuck Strahan and Jay McKinney, owners and operators of City Bee Company.
The pair started their journey to sustainable bee farming four years ago and in that time they’ve experienced tremendous growth and their company’s positive impact on the community seems to have no end in sight.
As a retailer of all-natural, locally-produced products, City Bee Company offers the comfort of full disclosure with no frustrating fine print. From local, allergy-fighting honey, to chemical-free skin care products, City Bee Company products are quickly gaining popularity all across the Southeast.
With successful careers in the hospitality and computer software industries, neither Strahan or McKinney had previous experience in beekeeping. In fact, it wasn’t until the two began working on a rooftop garden that their passion for sustainability grew into a mission to create their own products. When the pair realized their tomato and squash plants were not producing, Strahan did some research and found that the specific plant varieties in their container gardens did not self-pollinate — they needed bees to pollinate those plants. Yet, there weren’t many bees to be found in downtown Birmingham.
After a few unsuccessful attempts at labor-intensive manual pollination, Strahan or McKinney decided to take matters into their own hands. They purchased hives and a colony of starter bees for their garden and soon even began jarring and selling honey. It wasn’t long before a growing local demand for all-natural products encouraged them to expand production.
Through their journey, Strahan and McKinney made every effort to avoid commercial beekeeping practices, which often includes the use of chemicals in hive-keeping. Instead, they embraced more sustainable methods including safe honey harvesting, which means leaving a bit of honey on the hives after the annual harvest, rather than stripping them completely. This allows them to keep the bees nourished without feeding them supplements like sugar-water.
Through the practice of small-batch production, City Bee Company is able to ensure each product is made from the freshest ingredients and has the longest shelf life without added water, chemicals, or preservatives. Every City Bee Company product is artfully created by Strahan himself, who spends months perfecting each formula, often testing them on with multiple focus groups before releasing them into the market.
Today, a quick glance at the online store will showcase over a dozen products. They even offer a special “Paw Balm” to help soothe a dog’s dry or cracked paws, ears, or nose. The fragranced skin care products are infused with essential oils in unisex scents like peppermint, jasmine and lemongrass. Their ‘Near Naked’ lip balm is fragrance-free and allergen friendly. If you find yourself struggling to keep allergies at bay this spring, a spoonful of City Bee Company chili-infused honey or sweet creamed honey spread may help to familiarize your body with local pollens, which may help it begin to combat those pollens over time.
All City Bee Company products are available for purchase on their online store, in addition to the many local retailers listed on their website. During the spring, summer and autumn seasons, you can catch City Bee Company at several farmers markets and street festivals throughout the city, including Pepper Place every third Saturday from April to December, and at the West Homewood Farmers Market every Tuesday evening from June to August.