by Emily Murray
Public Affairs Specialist
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
The closing days of World War II brought sleepless nights to David Panahi, then a four-year-old Iranian boy living in what is now Azerbaijan near the border of Russia. His father away with the Army, Panahi remembers countless nights lying alone on the floor, crying himself to sleep while the sound of bombs exploding filled the air.
During the few peaceful daylight hours, Panahi and his older brother crossed cautiously to the countryside and watched Russian farmers tend to their beehives.
“Watching those beekeepers collect honey, I said right then-and-there, ‘God, I’d really like to do that one day.’” Panahi said. “God is good and he had a plan. I just didn’t realize it was going to take 65 years to get to the point where I would be in a position to have hives,” Panahi laughed.
Panahi left Iran in 1977, two years before the Iranian revolution which sent the Shah into exile and left Ayatollah Khomeini at the helm of the country.
“If we had stayed in Iran, I’m fairly certain we would have been killed because of our affiliation with the Iranian Army,” Panahi said.
Making the decision to move to America based on a picture of a palm tree that graced the cover of a magazine his Dad had shown him years earlier, Panahi and his two children packed up and left to begin new lives in the United States.
With stops in New York, Hawaii and a 37-year stay in California, Panahi and his wife Paula eventually found their way in 2006 to a picturesque acreage in Fair Grove, Missouri, and immediately began making plans for a farm.
“Within our first week here we bought horses, lambs, goats and geese,” Panahi said. “This place was a zoo.”
It wasn’t long after settling in at the Dallas County farm that Panahi connected with NRCS Resource Conservationist Myron Hartzell. Panahi needed a water source and Hartzell was happy to create a plan that included both a watering and rotational grazing system for his horses. It was around this time that Panahi returned to the plan he envisioned nearly seven decades earlier on the Russian border of Iran. He invested in his first three Italian beehives.
During a 2007 field visit with Hartzell, it came to light that Panahi now needed shade and winter protection for his new hive area and more blooming plants for pollinator habitat. After installing pasture fencing on his own, Panahi discovered that livestock, horses and goats were no longer the area he wanted to focus on.
Dedicating full energy to his beehives, Panahi increased to 10 hives in 2008, and 15 hives in 2009. Currently, Panahi has more than 100 Italian, Russian and Carniolan beehives scattered around his property and the properties of friends and acquaintances within a 90-mile radius.
“I make a visit to each of my hives once a week, at least three times a month,” Panahi said.
Routinely checking the queen, ensuring that the hives have enough space to spread out and feeding the bees with supplemental sugar water, Panahi’s pollinators produce an average of two tons of honey each year. However, due to the large amount of rainfall this year, Panahi expects less production since rain washes away nectar from the flowering blooms.
With assistance from Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Panahi’s pollinators are surrounded by fields of wildflowers, shrubs, red maples and fruit trees including pears, peaches, apples and even heat-loving figs. The native plants, Witchazel, Aromatic Asters and Goldenrod, were established with assistance from NRCS and designed to have continuous bloom periods throughout the growing season that enhance honey production and pollination activity.
“My neighbor told me there was no way that I would be able to get a fruit tree to grow in this part of Missouri,” Panahi said. “But the bees have helped produce some of the sweetest, juiciest fruit you can imagine. There is a good cross benefit between the pollinator crops and honey.”
NRCS Resource Conservationist Adam Coulter has worked extensively with Panahi over the past few years and now hosts some of Panahi’s hives on his own pollinator-friendly property.
“David is doing a great job building relationships in the community,” Coulter said. “He’s helping spread the word about the advantages of not only pollinator habitat but of NRCS assistance. His involvement in numerous local and state-level organizations is making people realize that NRCS is more than just an agency to help with terraces and livestock.”
Panahi sells his honey locally at the annual Fair Grove festival and has a shop on his property that runs on the honor system. His name and reputation for good, quality products that include honey, hives, queens and bee boxes, is extending his reach even further.
“I’m doing my best, as far as I know,” Panahi said. “I’ve learned a lot over the past few years. I attend classes and seminars, I’m a member of the Ozark and Missouri Beekeeping Associations and serve as a mentor to others beekeepers. I’m thankful for the assistance that NRCS has provided me. My gardens, fruit trees, wildflowers and trees have all been significantly enhanced by the bees and NRCS helped put that pollinator habitat in the ground.”