At the fair, she spreads word about how vital they are to food chain

Ambassador sweet on honeybees

The American Honey Queen can't pinpoint her favorite type of honey.

She's from Florida, so sometimes she's partial to the sweet Orange Blossom honey.

But there's also Tupelo, a bit fruitier, made with nectar from trees found in Southern swamps. Oh, and there's the Basswood honey, so light, with a hint of sweetness.

Susannah Austin, 19, the 2014 American Honey Queen, might not be able to choose one, but she can tell you about the varieties and why the honeybees who transformed the nectar are key to the nation's food sources. The little pollinators are crucial to producing about one-third of the foods people eat, Austin said. That's a $19 billion industry, she added.

"People start thinking about honey, but now people are starting to think about what's happening to bees," the reigning queen said at the Clark County Fair's Bee Barn, noting the fact that colony collapse has garnered a lot of attention lately.

Austin is serving as a spokesperson on behalf of the American Beekeeping Federation, which represents beekeepers and honey producers throughout the nation.

At the Clark County Fair's Bee Barn on Wednesday, she patiently pointed out the queen bee to children and spouted interesting facts to adults.

"Only the girls have stingers," Austin said, pointing to a hive that was on display in the barn.

"Only girls?" Mary Sullivan, 80, of Clark County said, surprised. "No wonder there's a Queen Bee."

The colony's entire society, Austin said, is led by the female bees. The male bees, called drones, don't do much work and die after they have mated. The queen, Austin said, often goes on one long mating flight, where she can mate with more than 20 drones.

"Then she goes back to the hive and lays eggs," Austin said.

At the Bee Barn, fairgoers could learn about bees, then pick up a honey stick and a packet of wildflowers to plant in their backyards.

Madeline Reish, 11, of Washougal, seemed to get the message the American Honey Queen was sending.

"It's cool, all of them working together to pollinate," Reish said. "It's one reason we're alive."

Lauren Dake: 360-735-4534;;

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