The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 30, 2006

A honey of a business

The Associated Press

SLAUGHTERVILLE, Okla. - Though the adage claims if a tree falls in a forest, no one may hear it, but when a tree, complete with an active hive of bees fell on George Richtmeyer's truck nearly 23 years ago, he listened.

Soliciting advice from the Oklahoma State University Cleveland County Extension Office and local beekeepers, Richtmeyer said within three years of the incident, he and his wife, Betty, were maintaining up to 500 hives of the swarming insects in their rural back yard.

Bees, Richtmeyer said, have fascinated him throughout his entire life. And though many Americans may fear the flying habits and hive activities of bees, the New York native says bees are a part of nature and don't deserve a bad rap.

"I've never been afraid of bees. I think that's why we get along so good," Richtmeyer said. "People kind of like to build up those fears of bees. They don't realize that without a bee, you wouldn't have any vegetables, any food."

Their business grew quickly, at first focusing on maintaining hives and providing bees to local farmers for pollination purposes, but it wasn't long before byproducts of honey and pollen became a part of the Richtmeyer's business.

Regularly ingesting locally produced pollen, said Betty Richtmeyer, can help with allergies such as cedar, pollen and mold and may even combat illness.

"It helps build up your immune system," she said. "It's a 100 percent natural vitamin."

And, because it was, at first, difficult to find the proper equipment for hives in Oklahoma, the business again expanded to distributing equipment and even starter hives, complete with a queen, to bee enthusiasts throughout the United States, George Richtmeyer said.

"When we started selling nooks (half of a hive) it was said it couldn't be done," Richtmeyer said. "But we did it."

Honored as Oklahoma Beekeeper of the Year in 1998 for his steadfast devotion to the bees, Richtmeyer said he adheres to ecologically sound beekeeping practices.

Chemicals, he said, destroy the natural processes and can contaminate honey and pollen.

Maintaining the same standards as when they started out so long ago, Betty Richtmeyer said each batch of honey that leaves the Slaughterville home is tested and Richtmeyer-approved.

"It's important to treat people how you'd like to be treated," she said. "That's why we taste the honey and if I don't like it, it won't ever go out to the public."

Though the couple is gradually sizing down the booming business, the Richtmeyers say they won't tire of the buzz in their back yard for years to come.

"Watching bees is like watching fish in a bowl," Betty Richtmeyer said. "They are just so interesting, so unique."