Forty-two years ago, a group of beekeeping hobbyists 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 U.S. Army, Skip transitioned to beekeeping fulltime in 2014.
The group has since grown to include commercial operators, such as his farm, and a youth program as well. It is also the second largest club in the state, said Skip.
Skip, a second-generation beekeeper, first jumped into the hobby because he found himself writing about it while studying for his business degree.
He said his father has been a beekeeper since 1985 and plays an important role in educating future generations of beekeepers through a program organized by the Collin County Hobby Beekeepers Association.
Previously, the club has met at the Heard Museum in McKinney but now meets at Collin College’s main campus in McKinney. It had 55 attendees show up to 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 good to be able to talk on the phone but an in-person talk or view to someone’s hives is a lot better.”
Because of the virtual meetings, the club’s strong youth program has seen some diminished enrollment as well as caps to participation, said Skip. Despite the challenges, there is still a strong foundation for the program he and his father teach.
“A lot of the influences from our club have helped generate programs, like our youth program,” Skip said. “We had a student, Blake Shook, who went on to start a big commercial production and became an ambassador for our youth program.”
The club’s youth program offers scholarships, said Skip, which covers the entire cost of starting a hive, the classes, equipment and textbooks. Typically, there are around six students each year enrolled in the course, which is taught one weekend each month for five months, he added.
Skip said the club’s youth program has had around 1,500 students since its inception, including former Gov. Rick Perry’s sister, Amelia Perry, who had an interest in beekeeping.
Additionally, the club engages in several public appearances through its Honey Queen program, including at the State Fair of Texas and local venues, such as a recent appearance at the Smith Public Library in Wylie Wednesday, July 20.
The club’s current Honey Queen, Gretchen Tschetter, and Honey Princess, Ayla Sumer, are both veterans of the youth scholarship program, said Skip, 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 may earn $4,000 to $5,000 in local scholarships but the totals can increase as the area represented grows, Skip said.
At the State Fair, the club has a routine presence, said Skip, with John, Skip’s father, organizing the booth since 1993. The Collin County Hobby Beekeepers Association had a six-year winning streak when it came to the “best demonstration” at the fair, prompting a discontinuation of the award because of the dominance, he added.
Part of the demonstration involved showing how honey can be used in cooking, said Skip, while also highlighting 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 the insects and local ecosystems.
“It’s a community effort,” Skip said. “It’s not just the beekeeper because they rely on other people for providing environments for bees to feed. Bees typically feed three to five miles from their known location.”
The club also tries to highlight the connection between bees and beekeepers and food production around the world because bees transport pollen to help fertilize plants. Skip describes the impacts as a “cycle.”
“When you get them to understand how everything affects daily life, then more people become aware,” Skip said. “Pesticides are one of our biggest things and we understand that we need to have to get rid of certain crops. As you affect those, bees are an insect too and it affects them.”
To help protect bees, the Collin County Hobby Beekeepers Association works with lawmakers to pass legislation aimed at curbing the use of pesticides that harm bees.
The club and others are also working with the Texas Department of Agriculture to reintroduce beekeeping to 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 someone who can connect with these kids agriculturally,” Skip said. “One of the resources is that they either have to do their own or work for somebody who is a beekeeper.”
Additionally, Skip says he encourages individuals to buy local honey, even if it is a little self-serving for local beekeepers such as himself. While there is no scientific evidence to back up local honey protecting against local allergens, honey is a good source of simple sugar and healthier than other forms of sugar consumption, he added.
Skip said Sabine Creek Honey farm cultivates between 30 and 40 pounds of honey each year and sells to Chef’s Foods, a local food distributor. His contributions have been placed in around 38 local restaurants.
“People are eating more than we are producing across the state,” Skip said. “Currently, the U.S. imports around 70% of its honey while producing around 30% of what’s consumed.”
He also rents out his facilities to smaller honey producers because of the increasing 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 in an homage to its roots. At the end of the day, the club’s seminars and demonstrations help raise awareness for the importance of bees and what they do for local ecosystems.
There has also been an increase in the awareness of beekeeping because of its well-publicized decline, said Skip, 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 affecting other things, such as food production, you don’t realize the correlation.”
The Collin County Hobby Beekeepers Association meets regularly at 6:30 p.m. at Collin College’s main campus in McKinney the second Monday of each month.
For more information, visit cchba.org.
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