Khaled Almaghafi came to the United States from Yemen in 1986 and studied business administration at UC Davis. He now uses his business acumen to run an international honey exporting firm from his south Berkeley home near the Ashby BART station.
It all started when he answered an ad for bee removal 10 years ago. Equipped with a vacuum containing a catch basin for bees, Almaghafi removed unwanted bees from Berkeley homes and businesses. Knowing the value of honey, Almaghafi began making use of what most feared. Soon the captured bees were making honey on small plots of land in Berkeley, El Sobrante and Walnut Creek.
“In Yemen, people will fight over a swarm of bees,” he said, noting the demand for honey. In America, though, people are frightened of the stinging buzzards, he said.
In his backyard, Almaghafi brazenly pulls trays of honey from wooden boxes, called frames. He rarely gets stung
“[People] are afraid because maybe they got stung as a child. It shouldn’t be like that,” he said. Bees have no interest in stinging humans, he added.
In his adventures into the homes of fearful East Bay residents, Almaghafi once claimed more than 700 pounds of honey from a home in which the walls had been a bee haven for two decades.
In addition to making honey, bees pollinate many trees and bushes, Almaghafi explained.
“If it wasn’t for the bees we wouldn’t be eating [a wide] variety of fruits,” he said.
When Almaghafi’s bees aren’t making honey on his property, he rents them to farmers who use them to pollinate crops. Bees pollinate almonds, kiwis, melons, alfalfa and other crops.
When the farmers are done with the bees, a homing instinct brings them back to their cages where Almaghafi collects them and brings them home.
Almaghafi explains that migratory beekeepers follow crops much like migrant workers, renting their bees to farmers in different regions in a mutually beneficial relationship.
California is a particularly good place to keep bees, Almaghafi adds, since bees can make honey year-round from different crops.
Almaghafi notes the ups and downs of a nature-dependent business model. Drought and other phenomena can wreak havoc on the harvest, he says.
“In a good year I can get 150 pounds of honey per hive,” he said. “In a bad year, I only get 20 or 30 pounds. But in the Bay Area, bees are making honey all year.”
After harvesting the honey from local sources, Almaghafi turns to his native land to sell his product. Not enough honey is produced in the arid nation of Yemen to meet the demand so he steps in, shipping containers full of the stuff by boat each year.