One-on-One: Jason Jones, president of Heavenly Organics
Through sustainably-sourced honey, Iowa-based Heavenly Organics helps build economic opportunity for conflict-stricken communities in India.
Heavenly Organics may have a celestial name and sweet products, but it’s the company’s mission that’s truly divine.
Based in Keota, Iowa, Heavenly Organics jars and distributes honey harvested from wild hives in the Gangotri, Jammu and Kashmir regions of Northern India — areas that have seen conﬂict under the Punjab insurgency and little opportunity for economic development.
Amit Hooda, who grew up near the conflict zone, wanted to do something. While attending the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, he and his father, renowned agronomist I.S. Hooda, considered ways in which they could combine their skills and help people in the region.
“They just wanted to create a way out of poverty and a really tough situation for local people, and they used a part of the local agriculture scene in order to create that way out,” said Heavenly Organics President Jason Jones.
The father-and-son duo realized there was a golden solution literally hanging from the trees: wild honey.
And so, in 2005, Heavenly Organics was born. The company works with 650 families whose members venture into forests to harvest honey from thousands of wild hives. Jones said the families visit the them at dusk when bees are most docile, and they never cut down trees or use smoke to disperse the bees.
“The forest flora is a tinder box, and introducing fire to the process is dangerous,” Jones said.
Instead, harvesters climb the trees and cut into the hive where the queen is not present, preserving the hive’s integrity. Harvesters also leave some of the honey behind, allowing bees to regenerate the hive’s stores in a few weeks.
And, given the remoteness of the hives, the estimated 500,000 bees Heavenly Organics interacts with are not exposed to antibiotics, pesticides or any other harmful chemicals.
“We leave the whole situation as undisturbed as possible,” he said. “We are taking honey, but we do it in an extremely mindful way that is better for the animals, the forests and our harvester families.”
Heavenly Organics jars and distributes three varieties of raw, USDA-certified organic honey: White, Acacia and Neem, flavored by flowers from the Neem tree, which is said to have medicinal properties. Also available is whole cane sugar produced by a small cooperative of family farmers from the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains.
It was only natural, then, for Heavenly Organics to expand into confections. The company produces Chocolate Honey Patties, which have just three or four ingredients, depending on the variety. All contain 100 percent cacao and white honey.
In addition to Almond and Peanut flavors, the patties are available in five nut-free varieties: Ginger, Mint, Double Dark, Pomegranate and Espresso. All are produced at Heavenly Organics’ 23,000-sq.-ft. facility in Keota.
Jones described the patties — which are organic, non-GMO, dairy-free, gluten-free, Fair Trade and kosher-certified — as the “cleanest candy on the market.” That’s good news for candy lovers who may face certain dietary restrictions.
“Indulging should be an egalitarian opportunity. Everyone loves to have something sweet,” he said. “But increasingly people are on specialized diets, avoiding certain things.”
For that reason, Heavenly Organics has seen success in natural and health stores, but the company is looking to expand its distribution into other retail channels.
“There’s a lot of room in the sweetener category, as well as the candy category, for mindful options like ours, and we have a scalable model,” Jones said.
Heavenly Organics also hopes to create additional economic development opportunities in other countries. The goal is to eventually help 10,000 families in impoverished, conflict-stricken areas.
“Our goal is to continue bringing about peace through prosperity,” Jones said.