In her West Chester University dorm room, Elena Hoffman has honey lotion, honey sugar body scrub, honey lip balm, honey for spreading on toast or mixing into tea, and honey shampoo.

"It makes your hair feel so soft," she said of the shampoo.

Her dorm room is also where she keeps her beekeeping suit, and, of course, her sash and crown.

Hoffman was crowned the 2014 American Honey Princess in Baton Rouge, La., last month by the American Beekeeping Federation, which represents its roughly 1,300 members and advocates for the industry in Washington.

The 18-year-old Hoffman, who served as the 2013 Pennsylvania Honey Queen, has kept bees with her dad for half her life at their home in Millmont, Union County, east of State College.

And while she said she had been stung a few times while extracting honey from hives - "Most of them are definitely my fault," she said - Hoffman's face lights up when she talks about the importance of bees to, well, whoever will listen.

And that includes her friends at meals, and even the West Chester dorm custodians a couple of times.

"They're the humble guardians of agriculture, I like to say," Hoffman said of the bees.

According to bee experts, we can thank honey bees for one in three mouthfuls of the food we eat. Pennsylvania has 3,200 mostly noncommercial beekeepers, and crop pollination by honey bees is valued at about $60 million per year, according to the Pennsylvania State Beekeepers Association.

But beekeepers battle mass casualties from parasitic mites, disease, colony collapse disorder and harsh winters, and ignorance about the role of bees in agriculture.

So the industry depends on ambassadors such as Hoffman to get more people to keep bees and eat honey and to spread the word about the importance of the hardworking bees.

The state produced more than one million pounds of honey in 2012, according to the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report. The country as a whole produced 147 million pounds.

Like Miss America, the American Honey Princess and Queen - 19-year-old Susannah Austin of Florida - must be charming and well-spoken. They have identical duties and will travel across the United States during their reigns, making appearances while wearing their shiny sashes and sparkling crowns.

The 2012 Honey Queen and Princess even went to the White House to visit the honey bees kept in the garden.

Hoffman's sash has a bee embroidered on it. As Honey Princess, Hoffman said she was looking forward to not only traveling the country but also putting bees on her face for her first "bee beard."

And there's no swimsuit competition. As part of the 55-year-old American Honey Queen program, potential princesses and queens between the ages of 18 and 25 must give a marketing presentation to the American Beekeeping Federation, whose members also quiz them on their beekeeping knowledge. Four women applied this year.

In Hoffman's dorm room, the biology major's precalculus and chemistry textbooks sit among other books, such as Honey: The Gourmet Medicine and a four-inch-thick binder full of honey bee information Hoffman needs to know.

"Once you get started with beekeeping, you can't stop," Hoffman said. "You just want to learn more about these fascinating creatures."

Roberta Jones, president of the Beaver Valley Area Beekeepers Association, has been keeping bees for five years at her home outside Pittsburgh.

"They're just the cutest little things," she said.

And her neighbors, doubtful at first, have told her how well their gardens are growing because of the little pollinators.

A few years ago, Jones got a call about a swarm of bees. So she picked them up and put them in a cardboard box in the back of her station wagon.

"Every red light people were like, 'Lady, you've got bees in your car,' " she said. "And I said: 'I know. They're my girls. I'm taking them home.' "

She plans to take a master beekeeping course soon.

Hoffman and Austin expect to split the beekeeping promotional duties this year to travel to as many beekeeper seminars, fairs, garden clubs, schools, and other events as possible. One of their main messages is that everyone has some beekeeper in them.

So they're encouraging people to take simple steps, such as limiting their use of pesticides and planting bee-friendly flowers to protect the honey bees.

On Friday night, Hoffman flew to Minnesota to join Austin for an appearance at a weekend beekeeping course.

"It's a unique thing to participate in," Austin said.

The two women also run the "Buzzing Across America" blog, have a Facebook page, and make videos for their YouTube channel.

"So," Hoffman said, with a laugh, "we're busy bees."



bees work their whole lives

to produce

one teaspoon

of honey.


mouthful in three in our diet benefits from honey bee pollination.


varieties of honey are available in the United States.


million pounds of honey produced in the United States in 2012.EndText 610-313-8207 @MichaelleBond