By CHRIS ALDRIDGE, Kentucky Proud Connection
LOUISVILLE – Elena Hoffman just turned 19 years old, but by the end of 2014, she will have visited half of the nation's 50 states as the American Honey Princess.
Hoffman, an articulate, poised sophomore at Westchester University, is traveling the country this year on an 80-day tour as Honey Princess, promoting the importance of honey bees to agriculture. She spent five of those days, Aug. 20-24, at the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville.
Hoffman credits her father, Brian, for her love of honeybees. She grew up helping her dad maintain 20 beehives on the family's 20-acre farm near Millmont, Pa.
"I owe it all to him," Elena said. "Without his passion for biology and honey bees, I wouldn't be where I am today. I remember every fall, when we would extract honey from the hives. That was my favorite thing to do.
"It's not a hobby; it's my passion. If I wasn't passionate, I wouldn't be able to do what I do."
Elena has a photo of her and her sisters, Bianca and Porsche, meeting the American Honey Queen when she was 6 years old at a meeting of the Pennsylvania State Beekeepers Association.
"My sisters and I had our picture taken with her," Hoffman said. "On the back, she wrote, 'To three future honey queens.' So I guess I've come full circle."
This year's honey queen, Susannah Austin of Orlando, Fla., and Princess Hoffman, the 2013 Pennsylvania Honey Queen, divided up the country for their promotional tours, each to visit 25 states before year's end.
Elena was making her first visit to Kentucky, which was the 12th state she has visited. She took some time out of her busy schedule to visit Churchill Downs.
Other states Elena had visited were Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Louisiana, New Jersey, Texas, and Wisconsin.
"The American Honey Princess is an important ambassador for the bee industry," said Kentucky state apiarist Tammy Horn, Elena's host in Kentucky. "The U.S. consumes 400 million pounds of honey, but domestic beekeepers can produce only 135 million pounds. The American Honey Princess reminds Kentucky that we need to support local bees and beekeepers."
When the state fair ended, Elena jetted off to Alaska on her 19th birthday. She was looking forward to seeing her sister Porsche, who lives in Alaska.
"A third of our food supply is pollinated, and bees pollinate 80 percent of that," Elena said, reciting some of the statistics that helped her win the knowledge-based Honey Princess competition.
"One of the things the American Beekeeping Federation is striving for is a national honey standard to certify what is supposed to be in the product to be called true honey," she said. "They also recommend that people plant bee-friendly wildflowers that bloom during every period of the year.
"My goal is to show people how friendly honey bees are," Elena added, noting that she recently "wore" a "bee beard" of 2,000 to 3,000 bees on her face to show that they won't sting unless they're provoked. "They're really docile insects. They're not aggressive; they're defensive."