A Day to Remember at the Vassar College Center: Expo on Beekeeping and Honey

Monday, the nineteenth of November is a day that was marked on all of the Coop (MLLC) members and faculty calendars since the beginning of the semester. This day would mark the culmination and celebration of the collective and individual efforts each student contributed to the process of studying Beekeeping and the Honey Queen Program (sponsored by the American Beekeeping Federation).

It all began with one of the first days of our Anthropology class, when our professor, Candice Lowe-Swift briefly mentioned a project that we would be working on with Honey Queens and Princesses, something about a Wikipedia article, and interviews. Most of this was sounded foreign to me, while equally exciting.

As the semester progressed, everything began to fall into place and slowly but surely I began making sense of it all. We dedicated a portion of class time and readings to learning about the interviewing process: we learnt about appropriate techniques, tips concerning what to do and not to do while conducting an interview, and even simulated a live interview in class! We learnt about what types of questions to ask, how to phrase them, and when to ask them. We learnt about what to do in a situation where the person being interviewed is not coming forth with information, such as probing them.  We were also assigned to read a book entitled “The Beekeeper’s Lament’ by Hannah Nordhaus. This was a personal account about the life of a beekeeper, and provide much insight, such as the dire need for an increased awareness about the decline in the number of bees and the lack of sustainability in pollenating our crops at the rate in which we are consuming food.

Who were we interviewing? Well, that is where the components of the project converge. Each of the eight of us was assigned two individuals to contact and interview. These contacts were either past Honey Queens or Princesses, administrators, or were otherwise involved in the founding of the prestigious Honey Queen Program. The Honey Queen Program is facilitated by the American Beekeeping Federation (ABF), and annually selects two young women to become the spokespeople for beekeeping and honey production in United States through a comprehensive competition. To learn more about the Honey Queens and Princesses, visit the Wikipedia page that WE the MLLC students put together! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honey_Queen_Program).

This brings me to the next portion of the project, once we finished conducting all of our interviews and compiling our findings, we had to get to work. First, to write an expose about the discussions that we held with these women. These were published in a seperate blog (http://pages.vassar.edu/honeyqueens/). In addition to the blog site, we pooled out efforts to create a Wikipedia entry about the Honey Queen Program. We split into pairs and were each assigned a separate section of the article to work on, using all of the compiled interviews to draw upon for information.

So what was so important about November 19th, you might ask? As I mentioned, it would mark the celebration of our efforts to gain all of this useful and interesting bee-related knowledge. The ‘celebration’ came in the form of an Expo, a ‘Beekeeping and Honey’ Expo to be exact. The event was held in the College Center in Main Building (here at Vassar College) which served as the perfect venue. We once again split into pairs (different ones this time) and presented 3 posters, each focusing on a different discipline represented in the MLLC program. The first poster was made by Emma and Ali, and was from an Anthropological perspective, and highlighted the differences between honey and sugar, symbolism and cultural significance of honey. Next was the Geography poster by Alicia and Maddie which was very visually appealing, presenting several maps representing patterns in honey production across the United States. Lastly, a biology poster was put together by myself and Jonathan to represent honey making, bee pollination, fertilization, and seed dispersal.

Still there was more! We were extremely fortunate to have the company and expertise of a local beekeeper named James who works at Soons Orchards in New Hampton, NY. He brought some equipment, honey from his bees, and a whole load of helpful and interesting facts about beekeeping and honey, giving presentations about how bees make honey, and how we use bees to make honey.

Lastly, but certainly most importantly were our two honored guests, Alyssa Fine from Pennsylvania and Danielle Dale from Wisconsin. These were the 2012 Honey Queen and Princess, respectively! Fitting in a special visit to our own Vassar Campus into their unbelievably hectic schedules! The two were an invaluable resource to have at the Expo, providing much insight and knowledge about beekeeping, the climate of the beekeeping industry, and other honey facts and recipes. My personal favorite was the Haggen-Dazs sponsored video about beekeeping, check it out: http://www.helpthehoneybees.com/#tv.

2012 American Honey Queen Alyssa Fine, from Pennsylvannia (left) and 2012 American Honey Princess Danielle Dale, from Wisconsin (right).

The event was a huge success! Many students stopped by during their surely busy days to  stop and taste some honey products, raw honeys, and ask questions of the Queen and Princess and the beekeeper!

We were lucky enough to be able to host Alyssa and Danielle for dinner at our TH. This was particularly enjoyable because it allowed us to interact with these wonderful women in a different context, sans crowns and sashes. We were able to kick back and talk about many day-to-day things. They shared the enormous stresses of the very hectic schedules, having to mapquest the location of their upcoming event on the way out of another. They shared the stress of being constantly on the road, not seeing family, and the difficulties in maintaining relationships and friendships. They claimed that they are ‘in a relationship’ with the Honey Queen Program. This gave me some valuable insight into the intensities of intricacies of being involved in such a demanding and professional program.

I am extremely grateful to the the Honey Queen and Princesses, the beekeeper, the rest of the MLLC program, Baynard and Cristian, and Candice Lowe-Swift for helping put together this successful and fun event!

For more photos, go to: http://www.flickr.com/photos/baynardbailey/8222125682/

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Vassar’s Inaugural Conference on Food and Agriculture

The hugely anticipated weekend of the Inaugural Conference on Food and Agriculture kicked off in style on a brisk Friday Evening, Friday Oct 5th, at the Aula. Everyone in attendance (faculty, MLLC students and faculty, administrators, and of course our lovely Alums) was in high spirits! There was a palpable energy in the room from the get go. Food is a hot topic. One we all shared a common interest and passion for. It was not long before this energy was harnessed in many conversations, presentations, ideas, and experiences that would mark this weekend a grand success.

And what better way to start off than with the notable keynote speaker, Florence (Flo) Reed? Following personal remarks from Dean Chennette, detailing his personal connection to food growing up and as a musician, Flo took the stage. Florence Reed is a Woodrow Wilson visiting Fellow. This means that she travels across the United States engaging in substantive dialogues with students and faculty members; through her week-long stay here at Vassar, Flo engaged in a variety of classes (including MLLC’s geography class!), seminars, workshops, lectures, and informal discussions. We felt so honored to get to spend this valuable time with her, particularly being able to host Flo and Susan Grove (from the Poughkeepsie Farm Project). Flo has aways believed that people working together can lead to change. It was this attitude that motivated her to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer in Panama. During her time in rural Central America, Flo became increasingly aware of the prolific ‘Slash-and-burn’ farming methods implemented, and of the many negative ramifications for the environment as well as for the well-being of the farmers. She even noted that the farmers themselves did not want to be using these methods. Therefore, Flo saw a crucial need for education about alternative agricultural practices, and when she found that no such organization existed, she founded Sustainable Harvest International. Sustainable Harvest International (SHI) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to working with rural Central American communities to implement sustainable farming practices. Her organization has flourished and helped many people harvest their own food is a sustainable manner, but Flo insists that the most significant affect SHI has had is empowering people to grow their own food and to be able to provide a more healthy and balanced diet for their family.

After a lovely reception with a delicious spread of hors d’oeuvres and assorted beverages, the Alums were dispersed among different groups of students with interests in food and treated to dinner. The MLLC house was proud to host Rebecca Roseman (’10), Eric Berngause (’80), and Robin Burger (’06) for a delicious mediterranean dinner from Zorona’s.

Saturday morning the conference switched into full-gear once everyone gathered again at the Aula at 10:00 AM. Another beautiful day and the level of energy and excitement was only increasing! The day would be divided into 4 Panels, each including 3 Alums who gave a condensed presentation of their diverse journeys with food.

The first Panel, entitled: International, Conventional, and Slow(er) Foods got the ball rolling. First up was the sweet and eloquent Rebecca Roseman (’10), who is an M.A. candiate in Food Systems at New York University, in NYC. Rebecca it seems, was on path that included thinking about food critically since high school. The food for her was always chocolate. It was then that her quest to finding “good to think, good to eat chocolate” embarked. This passion was carried through her Vassar career, spending her junior year as a Pastry chef, teaching ‘Death by Chocolate’- a mini-course series, writing numerous papers, and conducting extensive research. Her senior thesis, not surprisingly, was “Conscientious Chocolate: How to produce good to think, good to eat chocolate?”. This passion for chocolate has take Rebecca to Belize, to intern at Taza in the summertime, and now to continue research in fair-trade chocolate, and as an intern at Cisse Trading Co. (a maker of Fair Trade cocoa and baking mixes).

Next up was Justin Leavenworth (’96), who walked an entirely different path. At Vassar, Justin studied Cultural Anthropology and spent a lot of time questioning the fragmentation between department lines and different perspectives. After college Justin was the President of Campbell Soup in Mexico, then worked at his father’s Inlingua Franchise Co. mainly in language training. Justin then decided to start her own company called Global Arena helping people who wanted to be in business get started, participating in cross-cultural counseling. Eventually, Justin started his own Rancher’s Cooperative with the goal of creating economic reward for treating cows ethically and educating farmers about the cows’ value.

Eric Bernigause (’80) stepped up up to the microphone next. He opted to showcase his career path with a video presentation. He was a double major at Vassar in anthropology and sociology. He worked in a numerous large corporations including the National Park Service, IBM, Nestle, Nabisco, Kraft Foods, Pillsbury-Green Grant management. Many of these jobs toom Eric overseas and provided him with valuable experiences. Eric now works at Advanced H2O. LLC, and graciously provided ‘Vassar Smart Water’ and ‘Cappy Iced Tea’ as refreshments throughout the conference! The humorous thought was greatly appreciated!

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