County 4-H member sees honeybee as environmental benefactor
Growing up on a western Plymouth County farm, Kristen Foley is well aware of the role honeybees play in the production of many of the specialty crops finding their way into the nation's food chain.
This importance of the honeybee in crop production is substantiated by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data showing honeybee pollination is responsible for $15 billion in added value for specialty crops.
That includes almonds and other nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables.
These specialty crops are responsible for "one mouthful in three" of consumers' diets in the United States, the USDA says.
The USDA's awareness of the bee's contribution to agriculture has prompted the agency to include dollars for pollinator environmental benefits in its Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) available to eligible rural property owners.
Kristen, the daughter of David and Barb Foley, recognizes not only pollination benefits for specialty food crops but for flowers blooming at the Foley's farm near Akron.
She says the simple "fascination" of watching bees in her own bee hive go about their honey production is enjoyable.
"It's a part of being aware of nature and helping things to grow. I feel it's something everyone should know about," Kristen said, explaining why, for the second year in a row, she selected honeybees as a project for her 4-H club work.
She is a member of the Johnson Juniors 4-H Club.
Kristen's project, a Plymouth County Fair grand champion entry, also won a blue ribbon in the state 4-H agriculture and environment division.
Her 2012 project focused on collecting honeycomb and winterizing a bee hive.
It was an extension of her scholarship-winning 2011 project on starting a bee hive.
Also included in the project is a bottle of her "Pet Bee" honey.
Citing her uncle, Steve Foley, who lives nearby, as her honeybee "mentor," Kristen explained her own hive was established a year ago.
It is one of two located at her grandfather's farm, providing the necessary hands-on experience for developing this year's 4-H project.
Kristen smiles, adding that this year she feels has had "a really good hive" that produced a "whole box" of honey.
Also going on to this year's state fair were Kristen's projects in the textiles and clothing competition, photography (including, quite naturally, a bee photo) and foods.
The food entry? Cinnamon Honey Buns.
Kristen, an Akron-Westfield High School senior, says she feels her 4-H work, since first becoming involved as a fourth grader, has been valuable to her.
"It's a great learning experience," she said. "You learn to do so many different things."
And, she admits, her work in the foods area may be at least in part responsible for her decision to pursue a culinary arts career, a career which perhaps now and then will include a recipe selection featuring honey.