- Photo by Kelly Davis.
Beekeeper Malaki Obado’s raw Asali Honey comes from bees that are allowed to be bees. In other words, they feed on what’s around them, not additives and supplements. Those labels touting “Orange Blossom Honey?” Pfft. Trade it for Obado’s multi-floral variety. When bees are left to their own devices, they don’t selectively pollinate only one type of plant. Elitism is practiced by people, not insects.
“When you have monoculture—someone says my honey’s only buckwheat honey, [for instance]—the consumer’s been made to believe that one flavor is the best,” Obado says. “Then, all of a sudden, you have honey that’s not true to how honey was naturally.”
Obado, also co-founder of Grow Strong, a nonprofit that encourages people to use traditional methods to produce food locally, began beekeeping in Kenya at age 10 (asali means “honey” in Swahili). He maintains roughly 35 hives in Lakeside, Imperial Beach and Escondido, from which he extracts abundant amber goodness. Each jar has its own character. Some look entirely cloudy, while others appear only slightly so. I favor the crystalline sensibilities of the former and have been known to eat it with a spoon, drizzle it on yogurt and fruit or use it to sweeten tea. And, because it’s locally made, each purchase pulls an ounce of power from the industrialized food system, fueling, instead, the local one.
“The food system is actually messed up, in my opinion,” Obado says. “Local food, for instance, was the way of life for a long time until the industrialization of agriculture. So, really, it’s about going back to the good food that we used to have. It reminds us it’s not a new invention.”
Obado lives and works within a system where people grow good food so they and their families, friends and neighbors can live healthful lives. To him, supporting local means purchasing tomatoes from a neighbor; driving anywhere for food is supporting something else.
“It’s a border between consumers being told the wrong messages over time and supporting somebody who is out there to make money and not out there to feed good food,” he said.
Obado’s honey-making techniques differ from those of mass producers. For one, he harvests the honey when it’s ready (spring, summer and early fall); Obado suspects bigger companies harvest too early in order to produce year-round. He also doesn’t feed bees; they do fine on their own. And he doesn’t heat or strain the raw honey, so it retains its natural vitamins and medicinal qualities.
For those thinking this sounds like a Disney movie, with personified creatures fluttering about, you may not be far from the truth. Many consider bees frightening—one glimpse of the petite winged creature and they go nuts—but these buzzing beauties deserve more than a blast of chemical spray or shower from a garden hose, in Obado’s view.
“People should be a little bit more tolerant of bees; they’re important in the ecosystem,” he said. “I personally feel that bees that are not cared for—[that] are just hanging out in the wild where people don’t know where they are—those are the dangerous bees. They’re an accident waiting to happen.”
Bees that invade a trash can or set up camp in a yard, however, should and could be destined for greater things.
“You should work with a beekeeper who will keep the bees alive and give them a new home, rather than call a company that kills them,” he said.
And that’s just what Obado does. He’ll remove them and put them to good use, making honey that fuels our local food system and our bodies.