The beekeeping group still booming after 42 years

Forty-two years ago, a group of beekeeping enthusiasts with a passion for educating the public united to form the Collin County Hobby Beekeepers Association.

The organization’s president, John “Skip” Talbert, 54, operates Sabine Creek Honey Farm in Royse City with his father, John Talbert III, 84. After a career in the US Army, Skip transitioned into full-time beekeeping in 2014.

The group has since grown to include commercial operators, such as his farm, as well as a youth program. It’s also the second-largest club in the state, Skip said.

Skip, a second-generation beekeeper, first got into the hobby because he found himself writing about it while studying for his business degree.

He said his father had been a beekeeper since 1985 and played an important role in educating future generations of beekeepers through a program run by the Collin County Hobby Beekeepers Association.

The club previously met at the Heard Museum in McKinney, but now meets at the main campus of Collin College in McKinney. 55 attendees showed up for its July meeting, the first in-person meeting in two years.

“Beekeeping is a networking thing,” Skip said. “It’s one of those deals where it’s nice to be able to talk on the phone, but a face-to-face conversation or a view of someone’s hives is much better.”

Due to virtual meetings, the club’s strong youth program has seen a drop in enrollment as well as attendance caps, Skip said. Despite the challenges, there is still a strong foundation for the program he and his father teach.

“A lot of influences from our club have helped drive programs, like our youth program,” Skip said. “We had a student, Blake Shook, who then launched a big commercial production and became an ambassador for our youth program.”

The club’s youth program offers scholarships, Skip said, that cover the full cost of starting a hive, tuition, equipment and manuals. Typically, about six students are enrolled each year in the course, which is taught one weekend a month for five months, he added.

Skip said the club’s youth program has taken in around 1,500 students since its inception, including former Gov. Rick Perry’s sister, Amelia Perry, who was interested in beekeeping.

Additionally, the club participates in several public appearances as part of its Honey Queen program, including at the State Fair of Texas and local venues, such as a recent appearance at Wylie’s Smith Public Library on Wednesday, July 20.

The current Honey Queen, Gretchen Tschetter, and Honey Princess, Ayla Sumer, are both veterans of the youth scholarship program, Skip said, adding that they present educational classes and cooking demonstrations to the public. Being a honey queen can also lead to local, state, and national scholarships for participants.

Local Honey Queens can earn $4,000 to $5,000 in local scholarships, but totals can increase as the area represented grows, Skip said.

At the State Fair, the club has a regular presence, Skip said, with John, Skip’s father, having run the booth since 1993. The Collin County Hobby Beekeepers Association has enjoyed a six-game winning streak when it comes to the “best showing” at the fair, causing the price to break due to dominance, he added.

Part of the demonstration was to show how honey can be used in cooking, Skip said, while pointing out some of the distinct flavors found in local Texas honey, such as a bold, less sweet taste found in darker honey. .

Skip says local residents, even if they don’t keep bees or produce honey, play an important role in the overall health of local insects and ecosystems.

“It’s a community effort,” Skip said. “It’s not just the beekeeper, as they rely on other people to provide environments where the bees can feed. Bees typically forage three to five miles from their known location. »

The club also attempts to highlight the link between bees and beekeepers and food production around the world as bees carry pollen to help fertilize plants. Skip describes the impacts as a “cycle”.

“When you make them understand how everything affects everyday life, then more people become aware of it,” Skip said. “Pesticides are one of our biggest concerns and we understand that we need to get rid of certain crops. As you affect them, bees are also an insect and it affects them.

To help protect bees, the Collin County Hobby Beekeepers Association is working with lawmakers to pass legislation to limit the use of pesticides that harm bees.

The club and others are also working with the Texas Department of Agriculture to reintroduce beekeeping into local FFA and 4H organizations to help a contracting industry grow. By introducing local students to beekeepers in their area, Skip said he hopes it will continue to increase the number of beekeepers in Collin County and the state.

“You don’t have anyone who can come into contact with these kids in the agricultural field,” Skip said. “One of the resources is that they either have to do their own work or work for someone who is a beekeeper.”

Additionally, Skip says he encourages individuals to buy local honey, even if it’s a bit selfish for local beekeepers like him. Although there is no scientific evidence to support the protection of local honey against local allergens, honey is a good source of simple and healthier sugar than other forms of sugar consumption, he said. added.

Skip said the Sabine Creek Honey Farm grows between 30 and 40 pounds of honey each year and sells to Chef’s Foods, a local food distributor. His contributions were placed in approximately 38 local restaurants.

“People eat more than we produce statewide,” Skip said. “Currently, the United States imports about 70% of its honey while producing about 30% of what is consumed.”

It also rents out its facilities to small honey producers due to the rising costs of extraction equipment.

Now in his second term as president of the Collin County Hobby Beekeepers Association, Skip says he wants to stay focused on the educational components of the club as a tribute to his roots. At the end of the day, the club’s seminars and demonstrations raise awareness of the importance of bees and what they do for local ecosystems.

There has also been an increase in awareness of beekeeping due to its much publicized decline, Skip said, adding that before, beekeeping was a bit of a niche topic in the agricultural sector.

“People never really thought about it,” Skip said. “Until it really starts to affect other things, like food production, you don’t realize the correlation.”

The Collin County Hobby Beekeepers Association meets regularly at 6:30 p.m. on the main campus of Collin College in McKinney on the second Monday of each month.

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