When David Panahi was a small child in Iran, he and his brother were fascinated by watching the activities of beekeepers in the nearby Russian countryside. Ever since then he wanted to have bees of his own, but it took more than 60 years to realize his dream.
Today Panahi and his wife, Paula, own P & D Honey Farm at 1236 State Road AA (the corner of O and AA) near Fair Grove, and Paula also owns P & D Catering. David Panahi was born in 1939 in the city of Azarbaiejan — today called Tabriz — half of which was in Russia and half in Iran. His family later moved to the capital city of Tehran.
Twenty years later he and his two children moved to California, or as he tells it, “God sent us to California.” He had to earn money to support his family, so he was in the carpet and flooring business, along with interior decorating, in the Los Angeles area.
In California he met Paula, who had a catering business in LA, and three years later they were married. He retired from the carpet and flooring business after 34 years.
Paula’s parents lived in southwest Missouri, and one rainy day when they were visiting her father they drove by a 25-acre property that was for sale. It looked like it would be a great place for a honey farm.
“We bought the property that same day,” David said. It took two years to sell their home in California and move to Missouri, and they started out in 2007 with three hives. They had 10 hives, or “colonies,” the second year and have more than 50 this year.
In the meantime, Paula has developed a thriving catering business in the area. David has sold some bees and some queens to new beekeepers, and P & D is a member of the Ozark and Missouri Beekeeping associations. P & D has four breeds of honey bees: Golden Italian, Carmolian, New Minnesota Hygenics and Russians.
“Retired” may be the wrong word to describe David; he works from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week and often puts in 16 or 18 hours, except during the winter. David, who was born and raised as a Muslim, converted to Christianity three and a half years ago, and he and Paula take time out to attend Peace Chapel Church on Route O on Sunday mornings.
“I know that God brought us to this beautiful place,” he said. In the last couple of years they have planted 250 fruit and pollinator trees and 300 bushes for pollinator seedlings on eight acres.
They also a lot of buckwheat, sun flowers and other vegetation that the bees like. They have a vegetable garden and solar greenhouse that include zucchini, which David loves to barbecue for dinner. David is not a total vegetarian because he does eat meat and seafood occasionally (including fish from their pond), but he mostly eats fruits, vegetables and berries … and, of course, lots of honey.
They grow blackberries, most of which they eat themselves, but they also sell some to the nearby Oovvda Winery. Aside from grape wines, Oovvda makes fruit wines with the use of blackberries, cherries and blueberries, among other fruits.
P & D Honey Farm sells honey mostly to local customers at its own small shop at the front of the property. David said he should have honey available by the end of June or early July, and when that happens the shop is officially open on Saturdays and Sundays. Otherwise people can call P & D at (417) 569-2224 and arrange to pick up the honey.
“If we have the ‘Open’ sign at the shop, that means we have honey,” he said. The business also sells honey at the annual Fair Grove Historical Reunion, which has been highly successful.
P & D specializes in chunk-comb honey, and “I always keep the honey 100 percent pure and local,” David said. “If someone wants to see how we do it, we can extract the honey right there and put it in the bottle for them.”
Last year the firm produced one ton of honey, and everything sold out by April. P & D sometimes has tasting tours in which it takes a trailer load of people to the fields and takes samples of honey with butter and biscuits along the way.
Bees can easily be wiped out by what is called colony callopse disorder (CCD), and the Panahis lost 33 hives last year but replaced them all this year. He said sometimes CCD is caused by mismanagement because beekeepers are so busy.
Sometimes he feeds the colonies medicated sugar syrup and other medications to fight Varroa mites.
“If you compromise or ignore this, it takes over and kills the colonies,” David said. Like many other beekeepers, David is an active member of Swarm Catchers, which capture and take swarms of bees that are in people’s houses or on their properties.
He said he has taken care of four swarms so far this year, including one case in which the bees made a hole in the roof of a house and made a 6-foot hive.
“I had to crush the wall and take all of the bees,” David said. “I also got 150 pounds of honey, but because of the crushed wall, it was dirty and not consumable.” David said a typical bee’s life span in the summer is a maximum of four weeks, and in the winter it’s two months. A queen bee’s maximum life is three years.
“They are fascinating to watch, and you can’t ignore how God created this system,” he said. “The bees know what they are supposed to do from the moment they are hatched.”
He added that each hive has approximately 40,000 bees, which translates into two million total bees on his property. In her catering business, Paula’s specialty is prime rib, herb-crusted tri-tips and international dishes. Weddings are the top venue for her business, but she also does corporate events, private parties, and acts as “personal chef” for small parties.