Honey Festival creates a buzz
By DAVE PAYNE Sr.
PARKERSBURG, WV - It wasn't just the taste of sweet honey, but a drop in ticket prices and a special area for children that helped pack people in at the West Virginia Honey Festival at City Park over the weekend, organizers said.
About 2,500 people attended Saturday alone, said Carol Gaydac, festival coordinator.
This year, the entrance fee was reduced from $3 to $2 and an additional dollar could purchase attendance for both days. No weekend pass was available last year.
The festival had a special area for children for the first time this year, with carnival games, magicians and face painting.
Washington, W.Va., resident Wanda Turner brought her three-year-old son Alex to the festival Sunday and was able to shop between trips to the children's area for her son to bounce on an inflatable trampoline.
"He bounced, then we got some honey, then lots of shopping, then he's bouncing again. The hardest part has been getting him to leave the kids section," she said.
Parkersburg resident Art Joy Sr. has been keeping bees for decades and began tending bees with his father at a young age. He has 112 hives.
"Beekeeping is just like smoking. I guess it grows on you. It's interesting and relaxing, even if it is work," Joy said.
He has been eating honey even longer and spent many boyhood days chewing honey-laden beeswax.
"We used it for chewing gum. That's all we had back then," he said.
About 1,500 West Virginians keep the nearly 20,000 colonies of bees in the state, said George Clutter III, apiarist for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture.
Their hives produce 1.25 million pounds of honey each year, which is worth about $3 million.
Thanks to efforts to educate beekeepers, their investments are faring better than most in the eastern United States, Clutter said.
While Pennsylvania has twice the number of hives, West Virginia produces more honey, he said. Pennsylvania hives average about 27 pounds per honey each year, while those in West Virginia average 72 pounds. Profits from a well-tended colony average about $100 per season, he said.
Clutter said beekeeping is an endeavor suited perfectly to the Mountain State.
"In West Virginia, the steep terrain prohibits a lot of conventional farming, but that's not a problem for bees. Actually, some of the most economically depressed areas of the state are the best honey producers. A person could keep 35 colonies and make $3,500 in their backyard," he said.
As more honey is produced, more people are buying, whether for the taste of honey or for its health benefits - such as providing antioxidants or helping with allergies, Clutter said. Using honey instead of sugar in baked goods extends the shelf life of those foods by two weeks, he said.
In addition to honey products and crafts, the festival also included live entertainment and other activities. The performers included the In Step Dance Team, Portal, the Pipe and Drums of St. Andrew, Griffith and Cross, Shhhbang, Amanda DeBarr Edwards, the Parkersburg High School Red Wings, the Williams Family and the Proclaimers.
There was also baton twirling, a cooking demonstration, baking contest, a honey and wax show, and Steve Conlon sporting a beard of live bees.