By Rick Shrum
An aviation officer, Philip Costello had been out of the U.S. Air Force for 10 years when the Gulf War erupted in the early 1990s.
“I wanted to serve, I wanted to get into the fight,” he said.
So he did, signing up at age 51 while also hoping to get 20 years in. Costello said he left Washington County and was deployed in Qatar, where he earned medals for flying into a combat area “when it was a hostile environment.”
After returning home, to a non-hostile environment, “I wanted to have something else to do. I had a woodworking business, which was OK, but I’m a full-throttle type of guy,” the aviator said, pun not intended.
One of his Christmas gifts that year, from his children, may have been lighthearted in nature but created a buzz within their father. It was a book titled “Beekeeping For Dummies,” which focused on a vocation/avocation with which he had no experience.
Soon afterward, he considered it a honey of a suggestion.
“I can do this,” he surmised, before getting the bee hives.
Costello started with two beehives, graduated to four, then 16.
“We now have over 100 of them,” he said of the hives, which are housed in five apiaries. “Because of my military background, failure isn’t an option.”
He ended up with a master beekeeper certificate from the University of Montana and a satisfying post-Air Force career on his Mt. Pleasant Township property. He is working alongside family members: his wife, son, daughter and daughter-in-law,
Looking for a sweet place to live and/or oversee bees?
Costello Apiaries, off Route 18 north of Washington, is one of three beekeeping operations within just a few miles of each other in the Hickory area. The others are Bedillion Honey Farm and Swope’s Berries and Bees.
Bees, of course, produce honey, which is praised for the health benefits it provides. It fights seasonal allergies, soothes sore throats, and is reputed to enhance digestive health issues, weight loss and bone health. It is generally purchased in stores as pasteurized or raw.
Raw, unprocessed honey – with no additives or preservatives – is the healthiest type of honey, according to healthline.com.
Like Costello, Mark Bedillion and his wife, Sara, had precious little knowledge of bees when they launched their business in 2004.
“No one in the family had bees before,” Mark said with a laugh.
After starting with what he described as “a handful of bees,” the Bedillions and their four children – two sons, two daughters – oversee more than 1,000 bees in 30 locations in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.
Until 2004, the couple raised beef cattle, chickens and pigs and sold eggs on their farm.
“It’s hard to make money with bees starting out,” Mark said. “But we liked bees and focused more on beekeeping and phased everything else out.”
The Bedillions sell honey to stores in the region, but they also have a farm store, which is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Tuesday through Saturday.
“We sell beekeeping supplies to selling bees. Anything that has to do with bees, we have,” Mark said.
The family used to participate in a number of farm markets, but has cut back, Mark said.
“We found it’s hard to get away,” he said. “If you are beekeeping, you have to be beekeeping.
More than four decades after breaking away from beekeeping, Ron and Kathy Swope flew back in. In 2017, they purchased a former farm property straddling the Mt. Pleasant-Hopewell Township line. Their 16-acre tract also is near Route 18.
They were retirees who had moved there from south-central Pennsylvania, to be closer to a son and his family who were residing in Canonsburg. About three years ago, the couple – former administrators at Penn State University’s Mont Alto campus – launched a business called Swope’s Berries & Bees.
The Swopes grow black raspberries and blueberries, and harvest, extract and bottle honey. They sell these products – along with lip balm, body lotion, honey caramels and honey sticks – at stores, farmers markets and festivals.
“We’ve also developed a line of soaps, and bees wax wraps that are reusable,” Ron said. The public, he added, can visit and pick berries for a price.
They started farming in 1975, before they were married, tending to berries, fruit trees and bees in Waynesboro, near the Maryland line, where both grew up. Ron said there was a wholesale market of farmers who “needed bees to pollinate crops. Honey was a byproduct.”
Now they are back in the bee business, and reveling in it.
“I love doing this,” Ron Swope said. “I enjoy working with bees.”
So does Mark Bedillion.
“It’s definitely a passion,” he said.
“I couldn’t picture myself doing anything else.”