By Phoebe Myers, For The Miami Student

Two toy poodles greet me as I drive down the gravel driveway of Don Popp’s Honey Farm. My red Kia Soul seems
out of place in the countryside, flashy compared to the pickup truck parked in the open garage.

“Don’s taking a nap, I can go wake him up. Come on inside,” says Tracy, Don Popp’s daughter. I follow her into the kitchen and see Don rising slowly from an armchair in front of the TV.

“Hi Don!” I say while petting the poodles. “Your dogs are so cute, what are their names?”

“Well, that one’s Honey, and this one’s Bee” he says.

Since 1995, Don Popp’s life has been devoted to bees.

“I had a friend who wanted to put a hive on my land, and when he did, I just fell in love with ‘em,”

Now, after growing a single hive to over 500, Don Popp is the big man of honey in the Tri State area. He sells to multiple Kroger locations, Jungle Jim’s  and carries out online orders of anything from honeycomb to hives for aspiring keepers.

“She really does the business,” Don says, gesturing toward Tracy, who came to work for him full-time after graduating from the University of Cincinnati. “I handle the bees.”

For years Don worked alone in the fields with the hives, learning their behavior. He lets them sting him sometimes, though they rarely do.

“Everything about them is interesting. Especially the queens.”

As he gets older, however, his family doesn’t want him to work alone, and some of the quality time between bee and man has been lost.

Don now allocates his wisdom to a new generation of keepers, as an official Bee Inspector for Butler County. With media attention covering the threat of bee extinction, demand for hives has increased. People want to help, but Don demands compassionate keepers.

“You can’t just have bees. You have to take care of them.”