At twenty years old, Kari Boyce became a queen- a Honey Queen, that is. Born and raised in the suburban Minneapolis Area, Kari served as Minnesota Honey Queen in 1981 and proudly took home the national title for her home state in the 1982 American Honey Queen pagaent.
From cradle to crown, Kari has been immersed in the beekeeping industry her entire life- both of her father’s parents were beekeepers. And thats actually how her grandparents met- Kari’s grandfather, Melford Olson, bought bees from her grandmother! Melford went on to start his own business, MEL-O Honey Company in 1923, which Kari’s father and uncle ran and eventually sold in the late 1990s. To this day, the MEL-O name still sticks on honey bear bottles, under the managment of Sweet Harvest Foods, which states to be “focused on uncompromised quality and discriminating taste since 1923” as well as a “local honey company…transformed into a healthy foods producer serving the largest retail, wholesale and food service companies in the world with an array of high-quality products.”1 At the age of 76, Boyce’s father, Roger Olson, is still a beekpeer and was recently named Minnesota Beekeeper of the Year 2012.2 Kari’s brother, Steve, also keeps bees. Kari boasted that she and her cousin Angie (Olson) Lundeen are the only cousin Honey Queens in Minnesota and nationally! Angie was crowned 1999 MN Honey Queen and 2000 American Honey Queen.
Citing her dad’s family history in beekeeping and honey packaging, Kari warmly noted that all things bee have “always been a part of my life.” However, she became familiar with- and later motivated to compete in- the Honey Queen program through her grandmother’s lifelong dream, to see one of her granddaughters one day become a Honey Queen. “I had never heard of the competition before, despite growing up in the beekeeping industry” admitted Boyce, “She passed away the day before my 18th birthday (contestants had to be 18 to compete) and I was her oldest grandchild so I felt like this was really something I wanted to do.” She was about 16 years old when she heard of the competition and it was a few short years later, around the time Kari was 18 or 19 years old when the HQ program called her up at college.
Kari noted that the competiton tests how well you can communicate and promote the beekeeping industry. When asked how she prepared for the competitions, the ex-Queen humbly remarked that she “didn’t realize the knowledge I already had.” She said that her “learning curve was shallow compared to other competitors, despite some of them growing up in the industry as well or being beekeepers themselves” but that she definitely felt she had an advantage understanding the industry, “My dad was a natural teacher. He would take us out to bee yards as part of Sunday drives and just share information as part of conversation.”
Kari participated in the Twin Cities Hobby Beekeeper competition (which no longer exists) before being crowned a state Queen for Minnesota in 1981 at 19 years old and finally making it to the national level. Although it was difficult to recall all of her fellow competitors, Kari did remember the Texas Honey Queen at the national competition, who was a professional beauty queen contestant and finalist in the U.S. Maid of Cotton pageant.3 Kari commented that “this struck me, because I never looked at the Honey Queen competition as a beauty contest but as more about the bee and honey industry.” Kari also remembers that the contestants from other honey bee-producing states like Wisconsin, North Dakota, Florida were represented by particularly well-versed young ladies who were brought up in beekeeping families as well. Boyce reminisced, “it was interesting to see the cultural differences and diversity of women across the nation; each state has its own flavor- this was fun and interesting to learn about!”
As a reigning Honey Queen, Kari described her major responsibiliies as “mainly a figure head” for beekeeping who “must present a positive, professional face for the industry.” Kari, along with her fellow Honey Princess, was also charged with educating the public in many areas ranging from the fact that honey bees are not ‘killer bees’ to the agricultural benefits of honeybees to the challenges facing this important industry.
Kari’s activities as 1982 Honey Queen were published in the national newletters for beekeeprs, in which that year’s Honey Queen and Princess write articles summarizing what the ladies do each month on behalf of the industry. The new royalty also appeared in her local community newspaper, covering Kari’s journey from her first local competition to national crown, in addition to radio interviews. During our conversation, Kari shared a sweet anecdote about one of her appearances on the WGN cable network, recounting it as a ‘fiasco’- “I was not much of a cook! Luckily it aired at 5am!” Though the queen nobly defended her crown, “I learned and got better at my cooking demos.”
Kari revealed that it was difficult to choose a single experience as the most valuable or memorable during her time as Queen. She did comment, however, that the people she met along the way were truly unforgettable, “So many people opened their homes to host me, having never met me and showed me such wonderful places and people.” Boyce also values the public speaking opportunities inherent throughout the entire Honey Queen journey- from competition to reigning year. These experiences have been beneficial through her career changes, Kari acknowledged, and “gave me the confidence to do things I may not have tried.” Interestingly, Kari remarked that her extensive travelling simultaneously proved to be the most enjoyable and most challenging part of her experience as Honey Queen. While one trip spanned an exhausting 21 days on the road, Kari appreciates that she was able to see new places and meet wonderful people she otherwise would not have had the chance to.
Kari has remained peripherally involved with the beekeeping industry, as what she calls herself an “unofficial promoter.” She is on the list of people called to chaperone and ensure the safety and security of a Honey Queen when she comes to the Minnesota State Fair. She also crowned the new 2012 Minnesota Honey Queen, since it happened to be at the same time as her father’s coronation as Minnesota Beekeeper of the Year. Additionally, Kari has visited local schools to talk about beekeeping and honey production, bringing an observation hive (a glass case enclosed by a 8 x 14 inch square wooden frame with a frame of honey inside and live bees; shows parts of hive, interaction between bees, how they circulate around the queen, brood chamber of eggs; honey and pollen cells). Rather than changing the way she view bees and beekeeping, representing the beekeeping industry “made me more appreciative of the knowledge I already had” says Boyce.
Today, Kari is retired but working at Christian Investors Financial, a nonprofit consulting and financial institution, helping finance churches and ministries. Boyce does not see her crown gracing a family heir- her eldest daughter (25 years) is not interested in the Honey Queen program. Though her youngest daughter (20 years) is very interested in the program, she is also extremely invested in her education, very focused on finishing school and retaining her scholarship- and would have to take at least a semester off of college in order to pursue a Honey Queen crown.
However, Kari still makes one of her favorite honey recipes, Honey Fruit Smoothies, for her children, one which her daughter even makes in her college dorm to this day. Kari also reminisced one of her favorite (and blue-ribbon winning) recipes from her mother – a baked snack mix with honey as a seasoning. But, Kari divulged that her all time favorite is simple: honey drizzled over vanilla bean ice cream and fresh fruit!
When asked to comment on how she thinks the beekeeping industry will have changed in ten years, Kari passionately responded supporting the importance of more organic gardening practices as well as the elimination of GMOs and pesticides, “If we dont move toward [these practices] there will be a dramatic change in the beekeeping industry, that is less healthy. We must get back to natural practices, abide by the circle of life.” Kari went on admitting, “if you asked me this 5 years ago, this is not what I would have said, but now as I learn more about nutrition and CCD, I am more and more convinced that we must follow nature’s cues and let nature heal itself.”