At Bubble Farm Soap Company’s retail store at 933b Central Avenue, Chen, who has a liberal arts background, told Action Alameda News, “business has been better than I thought it would be. Most of my business is wholesale. For this store I just wanted to have a home base in Alameda to make the soap. Really for me the store is a way to feel part of the community. Before, I was making soap at home and it was isolating.”
Using honey and beeswax from local, independent, beekeepers, Chen produces soap, bath salts, hand salves, and now, candles, and stores the soap, which must be cured for two months, in the back of the shop.
She also carries honey from other local producers in Alameda, Redwood City and the Santa Cruz mountains, and other products such as honey drinks and pickles and fruits jarred using honey.
The bulk of her distribution, however, is carried by her wholesale operation, with stores like Whole Foods Market, Alameda Natural Grocery and The Natural Grocery Company stocking her products.
Chen said that she and her husband “starting making soap casually” from their bees in 2008, and made the business “official” in 2011.
Product demand quickly outstripped the supply from her twelve hives in Alameda and El Cerrito, prompting her to seek out other local beekeepers.
“By local,” she said, “I mean, hives on a small scale versus, mass farming like we see in the Central Valley, for example, people taking large numbers of hives and moving them around to pollinate crops and exposing them to pesticides.”
As we wrapped up the interview, a customer who seemed to know exactly what she was looking for wasted no time and selected three or four bars soap and set them by the register.
“Yay bees!” Chen said.