A Honey of a Visit

Jul 18, 2012

A Honey of a Visit

Jul 18, 2012

When youngsters meet Alyssa Fine, the first thing they ask is “Do you ever get stung?”

They also ask if the bee population is “still” declining and if she’s a beekeeper.

Yes, yes, and yes.

Alyssa Fine, 23, of Monongahela, Penn., is accustomed to answering questions. As the 2012 American Honey Bee Queen, sponsored by the American Beekeeping Federation, she’s an ambassador to the beekeeping and honey industries. One of her responsibilities is to educate the public about the importance of bees and the merits of honey.

And that’s just “fine” with her.

“I really enjoy this,” she said enthusiastically.

A 2010 graduate of Pennsylvania State University with a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness management, Fine is spending 11 days in California, one of some 23 states on her itinerary during her yearlong role as the American Honey Bee Queen.

She speaks at state and county fairs, festivals, schools,  beekeeping association meetings and to the news media, spreading the word about the importance of bees. She monitors the American Beekeeping Federation’s Facebook page, and the kids’ blog, buzzingacrossamerica.com. 

Fine also works closely with youth development groups, including Girl Scouts, 4-H, Boy Scouts. She hopes to “help bring back the beekeeping badge” for Girl Scouts.

Today she toured the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road at the University of California, Davis, and the adjacent Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden that's anchored with a six-foot-long ceramic bee sculpture.

The sculpture, created by Donna Billick of Davis and cleverly titled "Miss Bee Haven," portrays a morphologically correct worker bee.

Alyssa Fine recognized the worker bee right away. 

No stranger to bees, she's been around bees all her life. Her family owns the Fine Family Apiary in Monongahela, located 20 miles south of Pittsburgh. They keep about 150 hives and sell honey at farmers’ markets, at country stores, and via word of mouth. They also offer pollination services on area farms. 

Alyssa's earliest childhood memories include running through a field of clover and getting stung by a bee; enjoying fresh comb honey on the front porch; and crafting scores of school projects on honey bees.  

So, going from bee onlooker to bee fancier to beekeeper to Pennsylvania Honey Bee Queen to American Honey Bee Queen seemed quite natural. For, "bee-neath" the sash and the crown is a beekeeper who loves to talk about bees and their role in agriculture.

One thing's for sure: come next January, when her year as American Honey Bee Queen ends, she'll replace the crown with a bee veil.

Meanwhile, Alyssa is enjoying her California stay at the BD Ranch and Apiary in Wilton, owned by veteran beekeeper Brian Fishback and his wife, Darla, where they maintain 100 hives. Brian, a volunteer at the Laidlaw facility, is active in area, state and national beekeeping organizations.

Plans for the rest of the week? It's off to the California State Fair in Sacramento.

In fact, State Fair visitors can see their American Honey Bee Queen tomorrow (Thursday) and Friday at the Insect Pavilion where she will be greeting the public, handing out honey-based recipes, and answering questions in front of Fishback’s bee observation hive.

At 2 p.m. on Friday, she'll offer a special treat to State Fair visitors. She will present a cooking demonstration at 2 p.m. at The Farm. She'll prepare glazed skillet chicken, cole slaw and lemonade--all with honey, of course.

As for the Fishbacks, they've hosted an American Bee Queen for the past three years because they believe strongly in the American Beekeeping Federation's mission and message.

“Having an American Honey Bee Queen," he said, "is really good for public education, for people to learn about the importance of bees."