Kirk, Colo., man finds bees are a way to work in agriculture from his wheelchair
According to the 2010 census, 59 people reside in the nearly perfect square outline of Kirk, Colo.
In a blink, you’d miss it. There’s one grocery store, one auto shop, one church and one school — the same school from which Renny James, 52, graduated and where he later taught.
On June 5, 1979, James’ truck flipped and he was thrown from the vehicle. He broke his back, and James has been in a wheelchair ever since.
James grew up with a passion for animals. He loved caring for them and simply being around them. He connected with agriculture too, when he worked on various dairy farms and ranches.
Bees started to fascinate James during his senior year of high school. After the accident, bees became a tangible way to live out his dream. They allowed him to participate in agriculture, and today James cares for bees and harvests honey from his wheelchair in Kirk.
James spent most of his life in rural parts of eastern Colorado though he ventured to Boulder, Colo., when he went to college.
“I wanted to design enclosures for zoos until I found out that took a whole lot of calculus and a whole lot of physics,” James said. “So I went the art school rout. I suck at art. I can’t draw or paint so it’s a good thing I went with photography.”
He earned three degrees: biology, art education and photography. He learned about animals and learned about creatively expressing his love for them.
His time at CU was full of mischief and pranks gone awry. No one ever got hurt, James insisted, recounting the numerous times his counselor threatened to take away his scholarship. Pranks remain a huge source of entertainment for him.
2004 was the last year James taught. Now, he focuses on his bees.
“It’s soothing,” James said. “I can sit there by the beehive and just watch them come and go for hours. I went through some pretty serious depression and the bees were one of the biggest pick-me-up things.”
Money was the hardest part about starting out, James said. The add-ons added up. Now, he loves the challenge.
“I love building the frames,” James said. “We buy the cheapest stuff. It’s always a challenge to start with the worst stuff and make it into something.”
James hopes to expand beyond local buyers. The honey sells extremely well, he said. This year the hive will produce about 250 pounds of honey, the most yet.
“We’ve mailed it all over the place — like India,” James said. “My mom used to have an Indian penpal. They lived in Bombay. We sent them honey and they loved it. We sent it just for the fun of it, we’re not world famous or anything.”
James’ son and daughter, Josiah, 24, and Tiegen, 22, help with the bees. They have several animals of their own, including a corn snake, a conure bird (similar to a parrot), and three cats.
Josiah and Tiegen help harvest the honey and care for the bees. Both do their fair share of heavy lifting.
“The bees we had before these ones, you could wiggle your fingers at them and they would wiggle their antennas back at you,” Tiegen said.
She, too, has a fondness for bees stretching back into her earliest years.
“When Tiegen was a little girl, she loved bumble bees,” James said. “She would pet them. She’d get stung. You’d think she’d stop but she didn’t.”
Two years ago, James decided to amputate his legs and get an electric wheelchair. He’s had to adjust to life with different balance. Now, bees are more important than ever.
“This was the one thing I could do from the wheelchair that was semi-agricultural and new,” James said. ❖
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