If someone had told Chuck Strahan 10 years ago that he would become a beekeeper, he would have called them crazy. But today, as owner of City Bee Company, Strahan is in charge of 28 active hives in Birmingham.
Now entering its third year, City Bee Company sells all natural honeys and skincare products, including but not limited to lip balm, body butter, and beard oils, all made from beeswax in the commercial kitchen of a downtown loft.
While Strahan is proud of the growing popularity of his business, he can’t help but laugh as he reflects on the origins of the company.
Eight years ago, Strahan decided he wanted to grow a vegetable container garden on his roof. To his frustration, the garden gave him plenty of flowers but no actual vegetables. “I knew that bees pollinated vegetable plants. I didn’t think about the fact that bees didn’t know that these plants were three stories high in an urban setting,” he laughed.
It was actually Strahan’s partner who decided to invest in a beehive as a hobby. Strahan “wanted nothing to do with the beehive” other than having the bees help his vegetables. After the bees successfully pollinated his garden, Strahan became more involved and started giving the honey they produced to friends and neighbors. “People started saying, ‘Gosh, this honey is so good. You really should sell it.’ So that’s how City Bee Company was born,” said Strahan.
Strahan got the idea to start creating skincare products after noticing how much wax was accumulating from each cycle. “I started researching things that you can use beeswax for, and I knew that beeswax was used in skincare products,” he said. “But I was shocked that there’s beeswax in so many things. I mean shoe polish, furniture polish … I did some research and thought that I would really like to start doing some development on local skincare products that are all-natural.”
Keeping it “all-natural” is a big part of the City Bee Company philosophy. Strahan describes himself as a committed “treatment free beekeeper,” and believes that providing all natural products is what attracts customers. “We don’t use any chemicals anywhere around our hives or in our hives to manipulate honey production or anything like that,” Strahan said. “We are … totally chemical-free, which also means that our honey and skincare products are chemical-free. All other ingredients in addition to the beeswax we use are all natural ingredients.”
As a beekeeper, Strahan is well aware of the epidemic affecting the honey bee population around the world. “A few years ago … especially in the Southern region, there were some of us that were losing up to 50 percent of our hives. It was like having to start over,” said Strahan.
“There [are] several reasons for [the high loss of bees] but we all believe that the main reason is some of the chemicals that farmers use on their crops,” he added. “And we understand the farmer’s predicament. You know they’ve got to be able to put something on their [crops] to keep bugs and pests away, … but unfortunately a lot of the chemicals are killing the bees. But at the same time the farmers need the bees to pollinate their plants! So the farmers are in a catch-22.”
Strahan believes, however, for every negative factor affecting the bees, there are businesses like City Bee Company, as well as regular citizens, fighting to help the population sustain, and grow if possible. “There’s more and more beekeepers that are coming up. Even backyard beekeepers! There are several people in Birmingham that will have a hive in their backyard for nothing more than just, ‘I want to help the bee population,’” he said.
With City Bee Company’s online sales increasing — their chili pepper-infused honey is one of their best online sellers — Strahan is excited to expand the business with the help of local retailers. Patrons can already purchase several products in stores located in Avondale and the Summit, and Strahan is considering opening up shop on the Gulf Coast, besides other projects in the works.
“We’re a small business and we want to get it as large as we possibly can,” he said.
To learn more about City Bee Company and their products, visit their website at citybeecompany.com.