MAY’S LOCAL FOCUS: THE VIRTUOUS BEE
THE VIRTUOUS BEE – JENNIFER BLAND – BLOOMINGTON, IN
A few of us at Bloomingfoods were lucky enough to get invited to Soggy Bottoms farm, the idyllic spot where Jennifer Bland lives alongside her husband Luke, son Jett, dog Coen, and her beloved bees. Here is where she creates her luxuriously local brand of bee-based body care products: Body butters, deodorant, and lip balms all created with beezwax, honey, and other natural ingredients. We suited up, grabbed our cameras, and got up close and personal with the Virtuous Bee Apiary. Enjoy our interview with Jennifer below!
What inspired you to create the Virtuous Bee brand? Can you tell us your story, where you began, and how you ended up where you are today?
A friend of mine who is also my bee mentor (yes, it’s a thing, and all new beekeepers should find one!) brought me a big block of beeswax and asked if I could do anything with it. I gleefully obliged and took it on as a challenge. I tinkered with different ingredients and proportions until I got some results I really dug. Necessity is the Mother of invention so I started with body products that I needed. Lip Balm was the first thing, then the need was a body butter, then the balms, and then the soap. Every time I need something, I think, “why don’t I just make it?” I figure if I want and need it, surely someone else does, too. Which in related news, I am working on a natural deodorant that should launch at the time of this post. So I had these products that I thought were awesome, but they were my babies, and I wanted to see if they were as grand as I thought, so I started giving stuff to some friends to try. It was all a hit and I got rave reviews.
My husband decided he wanted to start a small side business tuning car computers for high performance as a hobby and asked me if I would do all the start up for him. In just a few hours I had created an official bonafide business complete with online store, all the necessary tax and legal documentation. I thought, “Well that was easy! I think I will start one too!” So within a matter of three months I had gone from being a retired hairdresser of 25 years, to being handed a block of beeswax, to being a business owner!
I nestled in with a cup of coffee, BravoTV on in the background, my trusty hound at my side, a laptop and a pen and paper, cause I’m a little old school sometimes. I started doodling and thinking of my bees, and all the many wonderful attributes. The word “Virtuous” popped into my mind and from there my fingers and brain went into a frenzy. I wrote all sorts of “virtues” while simultaneously thinking of the product and purpose for it. I also am a woman of contradictions, so I naturally thought of opposing things. Calm, energized, warm, cool, etc… I imagined a bee being central to it all and that’s how the logo was created. My husband later looked at my crazy doodling and scribbles and apparently I did a thing called “Mind mapping”. Who knew?
I had a great product, a pretty danged good brand I thought, now how and where am I going to sell it? I knew a website was mandatory, because if you don’t have a website, you don’t exist. But that did nothing for my soul. And though I missed the social aspect of my job, the idea of spending weekends at fairs and booths and away from my family did not sound appealing. Buying local trips my trigger and Bloomingfoods was a home away from home. It felt like a long shot and a crazy idea to walk in there with my product but it also felt right. I was strangely starstruck as I walked in this place I went to so often. In a dreamlike haze I did it. I asked Bloomingfoods if they would be interested in carrying my line. THEY. SAID. YES!!!!!
Can you talk for a moment about your dedication to and love of organic, local, sustainable products and your relationship with the co-op?
In 2008 I became pregnant with my son. I already was turned on to organic, but I suddenly became very aware of words like endocrine disruptors, parabens, phthalates, BPA, etc… I did what most Bloomington pregos do, and started shopping more regularly at Bloomingfoods. I then started noticing terms like fair trade, sustainable and unrefined. I credit Bloomingfoods and my son for teaching me to be a more responsible and healthy shopper. When it came time to choose ingredients for my products, I was faced with the hard decision to buy the highest quality ingredients and not budge on things that were very important to me or have a lower costing product. I also had the realization that the more you buy the cheaper it is. As a one woman show and a very very small business, I could not afford bulk prices, then I became that much more enamored with Bloomingfoods. They are in the same boat! It’s much harder to compete with big stores that can buy huge quantities when you are small and have to spend a lot more on the cost. We got each other, and at that point my loyalty was grounded. And it didn’t hurt that the company, at least in my experience, has been woman-heavy. That can only lead to greatness, I believe. When women help women, it’s magic.
Tell us about your partnerships with other local beekeepers and farmers.
The beekeeper community is surprisingly large, and infinitely awesome. I am a member of the Bee Town Bee Club, and we have monthly meeting at Ivy Tech the first Thursday of every month. I get to totally geek out and talk and listen about all bees all night and give my poor husband a break. The group has a co-op feel to it, actually. Several of us take on tasks for the meetings and club events. We even have a member that comes in each month with a new invention. We are all patiently waiting for him to decide he needs to open a brick and mortar bee store here in Bloomington!
How does energy work play a role in the making of your products?
Reiki. It’s basically energy with intent. When I create my product, I do it with love, and it makes me peaceful and happy. Everything that has motion is energy and everything down to its molecular level is moving. So it stands to reason to me that I can transfer that peace and love into the product. Reiki is a life force energy with great healing powers. I haven’t officially “charged” my product with Reiki YET, but I can tell you that it is with great love and intention that I create it. That has to be something. My next batch I plan to start next week should be fortified to the gills.
What are your designs for the future? Where are you headed from here?
Where am I headed? Who the heck knows. I have learned that it takes a balance of planning and letting go and letting the Universe lead you. When I get out of the way of myself good things happen. I never planned this business, but I did ask for nourishment to my soul, body and family.
Stop in at our East and West store May 3 – May 30 to receive 25% off the entire line of The Virtuous Bee products!