A swarm of buzzing bees sounds almost like soothing music to Stan Moukhtarov.
The political refugee has had a turbulent journey over the last 24 years – fleeing the crumbling Soviet Union and adjusting to a capitalistic lifestyle in the United States.
He’s had days filled with feelings of anxiety and depression. But Moukhtarov found a remedy for staving off those bad feelings: He puts on his gear and tends to his bees.
“It heals me, it calms me down,” Moukhtarov said. “Once you’re among the bees, you’re kind of underneath a halo.”
He’s found a way to make a business out of his beekeeping by selling jars of honey on the curbs of Chandler Heights Road. Over the last couple of years, Moukhtarov’s developed a base of loyal customers and sells a fair amount of honey each month.
“Enough to pay my bills,” he said.
He regularly gets calls from Chandler residents needing beehives removed from their yards. Moukhtarov is willing to help them out since he can relocate the bees to a safe location and collect their honey.
“I don’t kill the bees,” he emphasized. “I recover them and put them back to work,”
Moukhtarov relocates bees for free, but the equipment and time it takes to do the job prompted him to start asking for small donations.
It can be dangerous work, he said, but it’s worth saving an insect responsible for pollinating a huge swath of the world’s food supply.
Honey bees help to produce billions of dollars in American crops each year, but experts recently noted a sudden decline in the insect’s population.
People in Chandler don’t want to exterminate bees, Moukhtarov said, so he sees himself as providing an important service for protecting the local bee population.
Selling honey in sunny Arizona is quite different from Moukhtarov’s former life as a professional pianist in Uzbekistan.
He grew up during a time when his country was still under the control of the Soviet Union.
Life under the communist block had its pros and cons, Moukhtarov recalled. He earned a master’s degree in music for free, yet he wasn’t free to express himself without fear of repercussion.
As the Soviet Union began to collapse in the early 1990s, Moukhtarov found out he might be vulnerable to government persecution. Some of his relatives were active in politics, he said, so the government went after them.
Moukhtarov thought the government would consider him guilty by association, as it regularly did, and come after him next.
“They would prosecute you the same, put you into gulag,” Moukhtarov said, referencing the notorious Soviet labor camps housing political prisoners. “That part was scary.”
He applied for asylum in the courts and was granted refugee status in 1995, which allowed him to come to the United States.
“When I came to the United States, it was completely different,” Moukhtarov said. “There were lots of restrictions back in Russia.”
He moved around a bit, working a number of odd jobs before settling down in Chandler.
Although he trained in music, Moukhtarov found himself drawn to beekeeping and started selling the fruits of his labor on the roadside.
His honey jars can cost up to $20, a bit pricy compared to what’s available at the supermarket. But Moukhtarov said he doesn’t treat his bees with any chemicals or feed them sugar, giving his honey a more natural taste.
“I value my customer. I don’t want to lose trust in my customers,” he said. “I would rather sell it a little more expensive than to give them cheap, bad honey.”
Moukhtarov lives in a residential neighborhood governed by a homeowner’s association. This prohibits him from keeping his bees at home, so he depends on generous owners of larger properties to house his hives.
He has dozens of beehives located on parcels in Chandler, San Tan Valley, and Queen Creek.
As for the future, Moukhtarov would like to introduce the calming effects of beekeeping to others seeking a stress-reliever. He’s particularly interested in helping military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
When it comes to his honey, he’ll continue selling it on the roadside; hoping more motorists will consider stopping to try a sample.
Word-of-mouth can be critical for a small operation like his so Moukhtarov takes customer satisfaction quite seriously.
“One bad jar can destroy your whole business,” he joked.