“The cars were full of drums,” said Mike Wofchuck, percussionist and beekeeper, about his family’s evacuation from Paradise during the Camp Fire. “I threw a couple of bags of things into my wife’s car. . . . We didn’t think we weren’t coming back.”
Wofchuck’s honey is a familiar, iconic staple in and around Chico. A home operation with 220 hives, Mike’s honey business was fairly buzzing. But, like so many Paradisians, he lost everything in the Camp Fire, his home, his honey operation, and 160 beloved hives. And, in what feels like an almost tireless commitment to adding insult to injury, fate would have it that, post-fire, a bear strolled past his defunct electric sensors and destroyed eleven more hives. “If anybody is wondering, bears don’t hibernate up there,” he said dryly.
Today he has thirty-eight hives left, and he and his wife are living at a friend’s house in Chico, among the fortunate ones in the process of buying a home. As for their property in Paradise? They’re still not sure what to do about it, as the machinations of the USDA move like a Dickensian department of circumlocution. (The USDA offers disaster relief to beekeepers, but the whole department is still backlogged after the month-long government shutdown.
And Mike is anything but certain that small operations like his are eligible anyway.) Still, Mike is working to get his honey company flowing again, fueled by a powerful gratitude for all of the support and kindness that his friends and family have wrapped around them following the fire.
“I can’t believe how many friends have helped. We’re so blessed by so much support. The strangers and the people that we don’t know that have reached out, it’s been amazing.” He tallied the experience: “It’s really taught me about what I need to do to help others. I really know, now, how to help other people. It’s really powerful. I fully plan to rebuild the bee business. I’m just gonna have to take a little time to do it.”
Currently Mike is teaching percussion classes to seventh and eighth graders, and he’s offering percussion workshops through his Facebook page, under Mike Wofchuck. You can still find Wofchuck honey at Chico Natural Foods, S & S Organic Foods, and New Earth Market. If you would like to make a donation to the Wofchuck Honey Company to help restore this sweet community treasure, please email directly at email@example.com.
Sara Calvosa Olson is a Karuk writer living with her soulmate, raising two large teenage sons. She has a regular column in News From Native California that explores California Indian foodways and reconnection to traditional Indigenous ingredients. Chími nu’am! (Let’s eat!)