It’s hard to not get swept away in the enthusiasm American Honey Princess Elena Hoffman exudes for her “perfect passion.”

“Honeybees are honestly so fascinating and they’re so gentle,” Hoffman said. “I think people get the wrong impression, but honestly, they are one of the friendliest insects you can run into.”

Hoffman was named the American Honeybee Princess in January by the American Beekeepers Federation, and although she donned a pink sash, a bee necklace and a sparkly tiara, she’s not all fluff.

The well-spoken 19-year-old acts as the spokeswoman for the beekeeping organization, buzzing around the country to educate kids and their parents about the importance of honeybees and their integral role in ecology.

On Saturday she spoke to hundreds of kids and their parents as they strolled through Saturday’s Honey Harvest Festival on the University of Montana’s campus, explaining the different parts of the hive, the honeybee and the different products they produce.

“Honeybees are important because they give us one-third of our food supply through honeybee pollination,” she explained. “Without the honeybees we don’t have the foods you need.”

The Honey Harvest Festival followed on the heels of the Western Apicultural Society Conference and the International Conference on Hive and Honeybee Monitoring on UM’s campus. The four-day conference hosted upwards of 160 attendees.

Saturday’s festival boasted hundreds of honey lovers and about a dozen vendors selling honeybee products, like honeybee lip balm, after sun honeybee spray, and honeybee lube for a bike chain, along with your typical honey jars and beeswax candles.

A crowd of honey consumers hovered around Greg Fullerton’s honey stand early Saturday afternoon. He and his wife, Courtney, own Chief Mountain Honey and Glacier County Honey on the East side of Glacier Park. The couple is renowned for their distinctive white honey, which has a softer flavor than its darker-colored cousin.

“I love the bees,” Fullerton said. He inherited the trade from his father who started raising bees in the early 1970s. “It’s a wonderful occupation. I love being outside and in nature.”

The same could be said about Roan Welch, 11, who was also selling honeybee products at the festival. Welch has been cultivating honey with his parents for three years. He and his little sister, Skye, 8, tend to eight beehives. It’s a way for the kids to make a little extra spending money and money for college. The sixth-grader at Meadow Hill Middle School, said business had been fairly steady on Saturday.

“It’s pretty cool,” Roan said. “Not many people know about bees.”

Most of his knowledge comes from his father Phillip Welch, a veteran apiarist, who works for UM, researching beekeeping techniques. Phillip said this year was the first year UM hosted the conference and the Honey Harvest. It’s a precursor for a curriculum he is currently developing with Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk.

As of this fall, students can take both the apprentice level beekeeping and the journeyman-level beekeeping courses, but next spring, students will be able to take the master-level course developed by Bromenshenk and Welch.

Reporter Kathryn Haake can be reached at 523-5268 or at kate.haake@missoulian.com.

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