As a helicopter mechanic in the military, Jesus Toro’s primary duty involved keeping flying objects flying and performing optimally.
Today, the 30-year-old husband, father of three children, and Marine Corps veteran still keeps things flying and performing optimally. He just handles more of them — as in thousands upon thousands more.
Toro is a beekeeper who used his GI Bill education benefits to study agriculture at Fresno State. He now owns his own business in Madera, where he was born and raised. It’s a field that captured his interest when he was an insect-loving young boy. Back then, it was purely a fascination that resulted in more than a few bee stings. Now, it’s the science of his profession.
“I always knew bees are a very important insect,” he said. “It took a while to realize the scope of their importance.”
Indeed, bees are absolutely vital to agriculture and particularly to California’s $6 billion annual almond industry that accounts for 80 percent of the world’s almond production.
It’s really very simple: No bees, no business.
As a beekeeper, Toro is mostly self-taught and employs much of the same perseverance and self-discipline he learned in the military. He started out on his own two years ago, and recently benefitted from a grant from the Farmer Veteran Coalition that enabled him to purchase a trailer to transport his beehives to and from the orchards.
He considers himself fortunate to have a single client that contracts for his bees throughout the pollination season, easing the need to market his business.
The bees? They can have minds of their own, and their chain of command begins with the queen – not the beekeepers. And they are known to mutiny every now and then.
“Lots of things can go wrong,” Toro said. “You can’t keep (the bees) in check. You conform to them. Bees are soldiers. The queen is in the hive but they are free to replace her as soon as she stops laying eggs.”
When the queen is efficient, his swarm can triple in numbers twice each year which, in turn, gives Toro the ability to grow his business. He monitors their behavior around the hives, making sure they have water, and making sure they are fed during the hotter months. Taking care of the bees is taking care of the business, and not unlike what he did in the military in some ways.
“I was a helicopter mechanic,” said Toro, who spent most of his four years, nine months as a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton near San Diego. “Attention to details was crucial. Helicopters can’t just pull over when they break down. You have to make sure everything is correct.”
He gets some help from his dad, who is allergic to bee stings and needs to keep his distance. Otherwise, Toro is a solo act and happy with that.
“I enjoy being by myself and the bees,” he said.
And keeping them ready to fly.