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The North American Beekeepers Conference
By: Jessica Louque

The North American Beekeepers Conference was held in Disneyland this year, making it a prime target for family beekeepers (or so I thought). Since I was presenting, my registration was free and work paid my hotel, flight, food, and rental car. Bobby and I decided we would take the kids out, have some bee experience with them, and get a little bit of everything in with a day in the park, some conference time, a drive over to the Aquarium of the Pacific, and a day at the San Diego Zoo.

We spent our Tuesday in Disneyland, and for the most part, had a good time. The magic hour gave us more ride time than any other three hours combined, which was nice. The food poisoning I received with my chicken crepes from the Café Orleans was not so fun, and we had to take an early exit from the park on Tuesday night, just as we had sat down for our dinner reservations. This was slightly more traumatic because I had my presentation the next day. We had breakfast at Goofy’s Kitchen since there wasn’t a lot of character interaction in the park the day before, but I’m not sure we had our money’s worth of food at almost $250 for the six of us to eat.

Charles and George enjoying the tradeshow.

For various reasons, our oldest two did not come with us to the conference itself. One turned 13 that morning and perhaps was trying on some newly minted teenage angst for the day. Our two youngest had a blast running through the booths, talking to people (their favorite pastime, I think), and getting “free stuff” from the booths. Dadant gave them a handful of honey candy that is now their favorite, and they were given “drawing books” from Lebermuth that smelled like honeysuckle after an oil sample. We stopped in to say hi to Solution Bee, who is one of our vendors at work. The boys were a little bored when we stopped to talk about sugar pumps. Our attempts at shoveling 500 gallons of syrup through a pump produced a few burnouts this year, and maybe we have found a solution to that problem. We relied on the free candy and a bouncy ball to keep the boys occupied while we conversed. Lastly, we stopped to pick up one of Kodua’s calendars from the California Beekeepers booth. The tradeshow by far was their favorite.

During my session, David Tarpy replaced the original speaker with a presentation on their queen program at NC State. I was slightly chagrined that I didn’t already know about their program since it wasn’t a new topic, but I think it’s something that would be an advantage in some of our testing, so it was fortuitous timing for my own personal information. George, who just turned eight in the past week, fell asleep during this presentation and didn’t wake up until mine was over. Obviously none of us were riveting enough in our demonstrative skills to keep a child engaged – although Charles, our almost-11 year old, paid attention through most of the presentations that we watched.

There were only four presentations in my session, one of which was an election to replace a director. There were a lot of recognizable faces in the room, but no one wanted to serve in the position and the person who previously held the seat ended up keeping it (this was my perception, at least). Now, it does occur to me that these other people were familiar faces to me because they’ve paid their dues in serving for ABF, but as an occasional attendee to the meetings, a lot of the information is foreign to me. I point this out only because it was not clear to me what specifically this position entailed, what it was, or what was expected. I’m not sure there would have been any more volunteers if the information was more apparent, but just some sort of description would have been nice to have prior to the event, like a newsletter to attendees with positions open, job duties and requirements, and if someone was interested in a position to attend at which session. Perhaps this was clear to other people in a way that it wasn’t to me. Wrangling four kids in Disneyland is probably around the same difficulty level as herding cats, so it’s likely that Bobby and I did miss a few glaringly obvious things.

I did see some things that I would like to mention. My observations are slightly different that another year that I might have attended due to the familial additions to the roster for the trip. Honestly, I expected a lot more kids to be in attendance. There were some kids, and I would definitely say there were more than I’ve noticed in the past. However, I do tend to normally go out of my way to avoid children when I don’t have my own with me, so perhaps this is not a fair statement. My point is that I don’t think there were nearly as many kids and there should have been for a conference of any kind that was held in the Magic Kingdom. Why weren’t there more kids? From our perspective, everyone was very friendly to the kids, or at least they passively ignored them when they weren’t on their greatest behavior, but the conference itself was not kid friendly. It’s really hard to have a kid sit still for long periods of time. Having sessions with more than two presentations back to back with no bathroom breaks or at least a couple minutes between the presentations makes it a lot harder to get them to sit still. If they wanted a drink in the tradeshow, at least there were plastic and paper abounding in the area, but in the presentations, the water was available in glass, which is a disaster waiting to happen.

The Louque family spending some time in Disneyland.

Our oldest two could not fathom anything in the conference that would interest them. Truth be told, I didn’t know anything to tell them that would entice them to come (besides, hey, let’s go to Disney) and I’m still not sure there’s anything they would have enjoyed. Some of this could be our fault, because we make our living in honey bees, albeit not at our house specifically, but not one of our children have ever been in the bees, nor do they want to. I can’t seem to convey the enjoyment I have with beekeeping to that generation. If someone wanted to give a talk on how to engage kids in beekeeping or make it more relevant, I would go see that. I do know there was a “Kids and Bees” four hour session, but with no description, this was a bit too hazy. Is this an engaging activity for the kids? Is it how we should involve kids, but maybe kids won’t actually want to be at the session? To plan in this family, it takes a lot of background information to make an informed decision.

Some of the difficulty lies in the trip itself. I know in our state meetings, we have competitions for food as well as the honey and wax sections. With the national meeting, I am sure that there are several people with some amazing baking and cooking skills, but it’s nearly impossible to transport food or prepare food with the traveling required for these meetings. I know at least two of our kids would be interested in a honey cooking session, or cooking with kids and honey, or just being taste testers. There’s also a possibility of a crafts section for a slightly different track. I know Eastern Apiculture Society had a pysanky (Ukranian) egg session once that was extremely popular and I enjoyed it, and I know at least two of our kids would enjoy that as well. They would also enjoy more child-oriented hand-outs at the booths, but it would be a bit costly to include coloring books and beeswax candles when only five kids show up and you planned for 20.

In the end, I know the conference can’t cater to the children or young teens, especially when they aren’t in attendance. My worry is where is the future of beekeeping if we can’t keep the kids interested in the first place? I don’t know what the answer would be to fix this, other than perhaps send out a survey to people who attended this year or people who have attended in recent years, and ask them about what it would take for them to bring their kids or grandkids with them to a meeting, and what would their kids like to see?

For us, the trip was incredibly expensive. I don’t think we paid less than $150 for a meal the entire stay in Disney, and I might have cried at the cost per night of a two-bedroom suite to house six people. There were tantrums and breakdowns that come with traveling with kids, but I tried to keep those to a minimum (when it was me having the tantrum, at least) and everybody had a mostly good time. I only consider the trip a marginal success because two of the four didn’t participate at all in the reason for the trip, and I think this was an educational experience on many levels that was missed by them. My hope for the future of the North American Beekeepers Conference is to find a way to incorporate the children and young adults into the meeting in a way that makes them want to be involved and come to the meetings. I’m sure there will be times when they get bored or fussy, because I get bored and fussy sometimes too. I hope that there were a lot more children at this meeting than I passively observed, and that the meeting will be considered a success. Most of all, I’m waiting on a “Bee Our Guest: Disney World” in the future, with a meeting planned that can include our whole family in the Mickey world and in the beekeeping world.