LEBANON — Jeff Cripe was born to be a beekeeper.
"My story begins when I was 6," the the owner of Eagle Creek Apiary said, recalling a visit to his uncle's home at Mulberry.
"My uncle kept bees to make mead and we were there on a sunny cool spring day. I was sitting on the sunny side of the barn watching his bees and I fell in love.
"That day I chose to take a butt whipping to be with the bees," he said, remembering how his parents told him to stay away from the hive.
Four years later Cripe had a newspaper route, delivering the Hammond Times in his hometown of Lowell.
"I met a beekeeper on my route," he said. "We only delivered the Sunday paper to him, but when I found out he had bees, I was there every day. He introduced me to bee ware — frames and hives."
The beekeeper offered to teach the boy the art and science of beekeeping, but only if Cripe could get his parents' permission.
Sadly, he said, "My mom knew enough to tell me no."
The years passed and Cripe grew up and started his own construction company, working mainly in the Carmel and Fishers area.
One day he and a friend found themselves on Boone County Road 100 N, just west of the Boone-Hamilton County line.
His friend, who raised exotic deer, turned in to a farm on the north side of the road, driving to the back of the property to admire what looked like good deer habitat there. When they headed back to the road, they were met by the elderly woman who owned the farm standing in the road.
"She was on my side of the car and she was cussing mad, wanting to know, 'What are you boys doing on my property,'" he said.
She said the place was for sale and gave them the name of the real estate broker.
Cripe remembers the date clearly — April 12, 1997. He returned later that evening with his wife and child to tell the woman he was serious about the property and would be back in the morning with the Realtor.
"I had a signed agreement for the farm and five acres by the next afternoon," he said, adding, "This place chose me."
There were bees on the property, but as often happens with novice beekeepers, he lost his first hive. He formed a partnership with another beekeeper and the business took off, eventually splitting up for the owners to pursue different goals.
Cripe's aim was to be able to provide customers with the closest thing they'll ever get to honey from their back yard. He does it by contracting with 25 different landowners over a 350-square-mile portion of the Eagle Creek watershed, ranging from north of Pike's Crossing in Boone County to around Cicero in Hamilton County and down to Fishers and Eagle Creek Park. All together, he manages more than 400 colonies of bees.
The aim is to maximize the health benefits of having honey made from flora as close to the consumer's home as possible — benefits that include allergy relief, improving digestive issues and diabetes and even insomnia.
Cripe is a walking encyclopedia on the subject of the health benefits of honey and bee pollen and is a passionate evangelist for the importance of bees and their products.
He is a regular vendor at farmers markets throughout the area, including Lebanon, Sheridan, Carmel, Noblesville and Broad Ripple. More information is available on his web site: www.eaglecreekapiary.com.