EAU CLAIRE — As a nursing student at UW-Eau Claire, Hannah Sjostrom is bringing an interesting perspective to her new position as 2019 American Honey Queen.
“Honey has lots of medical purposes,” Sjostrom said. “One thing it’s great for is honey has antibacterial properties that can help with wound healing. It’s also been proven to help with sore throats better than cough syrup.”
Sjostrom, 20, of Maiden Rock was selected as the 2019 American Honey Queen at the American Beekeeping Federation Conference and Tradeshow in Myrtle Beach, S.C. She will spend the next year making appearances across the country promoting the benefits of honey and the beekeeping industry for the American Beekeeping Federation.
She said some of her goals for her year as American Honey Queen include getting into 4-H groups nationwide to discuss the importance of honeybees; creating resources on medical uses of honey; and a joint goal with Honey Princess Nicole Medina of New Jersey to reach 1 million people through Facebook and other avenues on food demonstrations that promote the consumption of honey.
Sjostrom is the daughter of Douglas and Kim Sjostrom of Maiden Rock. She is a third-generation beekeeper, following in the footsteps of her father and grandfather, Edwin.
“I grew up in a family of beekeeping,” Sjostrom said. “Growing up in the industry and learning my family’s passion for it and the love for the bees made learning to love how important bees are to everyday life for everyone something that has always intrigued me.”
The family’s Honey Hill Apiary got its start when Sjostrom’s father, Douglas, bought a hive from Sears & Roebuck as a 4-H project when he was about 10 years old, she said.
Honey Hill Apiary has grown to about 200 hives scattered around Pierce County. They sell their products at Eau Claire farmers’ markets and area grocery stores.
“My goal is, my dad expanded it, and I want to keep expanding it,” Sjostrom said. “While nursing is going to be my primary occupation, the goal is also to continue expanding the family business.”
With Honey Hill Apiary’s involvement in the Wisconsin Honey Producers Association, Sjostrom said growing up, she received plenty of encouragement to pursue the position of Wisconsin Honey Queen, a role she filled in 2018.
“I love the importance of the program and what it represented, so I ran for that and spent a year promoting there throughout Wisconsin,” Sjostrom said.
As the 2018 Wisconsin Honey Queen, Sjostrom promoted the honey industry in schools, through media interviews and at fairs, festivals and farmers’ markets. She said she traveled more than 8,000 miles and attended 35 events as Wisconsin Honey Queen.
As American Honey Queen, Sjostrom said she will be promoting for hundreds of days. She expects to be in approximately 20 states doing interviews, school presentations, government visits and fairs and festivals this year.
“I’ll do a lot of the same things, but nationwide this year,” she said. “Wherever we can be to promote the industry is where we’re going to be.”
The American Honey Queen Program is entering its 61st year. Sjostrom is the 13th national representative that the American Beekeeping Federation has had from Wisconsin; six were American Honey Princesses and seven were American Honey Queens, according to American Honey Queen Program Chairperson Anna Kettlewell, who, like Sjostrom, previously held both the Wisconsin Honey Queen and American Honey Queen positions.
According to the American Beekeeping Federation, the American Honey Queen Program provides the entire beekeeping industry with a salesperson and a public representative. The purpose of the Honey Queen and Honey Princess is to increase the consumption of honey, as well as educate the public about the beekeeping industry nationwide.
“The American Honey Queen Program has definitely evolved and changed over the years,” Kettlewell said. “Beekeeping as an industry has faced new challenges with each passing decade, thereby requiring our representatives to become well versed in the challenges facing the industry and our bees and how to relay that information to the public is something that we work on each year.”
Insect pollination is responsible for a third of all the foods we eat, according to Sjostrom, and 80 percent of those foods are dependent on honeybees.
Sjostrom said beekeepers are continuing to lose about a third of their bees every year. Researchers and beekeepers working on the issue have found that it’s not just one thing affecting colonies, but multiple things at once, she said.
“Now it’s just trying to work on how to incorporate those findings into how to improve the health of the honeybees,” she said.
“In recent years, honeybee health and habitat preservation have been important points of emphasis for beekeepers nationwide, and our queens are no exception in carrying that message to consumers,” Kettlewell said. “So, in addition to messages about using honey and its benefits, we also provide information to the public on the challenges facing the honeybees and beekeepers nationwide.”
Sjostrom, a junior at UW-Eau Claire, is currently working around her school schedule to fulfill her American Honey Queen duties. She plans to take the fall semester off — when state fairs and fall festivals will take up more of her time — to focus on her work as American Honey Queen.
“That’s the heaviest time for promotion,” Sjostrom said. “For me, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and college is really willing to work with me and my schedule. It will push my college career longer, but for the opportunity I get this year, it’s definitely worth it.”
“Not everyone understands how important honeybees are. I love that I get to express something that I’m very passionate about; and that’s that they have a huge impact on everyone’s life.”