The first time Victoria Tripp helped her dad with the honeybee hives at Country Sweets, she got stung in the face six times. She was nine years old.
Unlike her four siblings, Victoria brushed off the pain of that initial experience and stuck to it. Today, at age 15, this teenage, high school, travel-team softball player is also the youngest beekeeping entrepreneur we know.
It’s tempting to whip up sugary sweet adjectives to describe a young, female apiarist. But pragmatic Victoria would want us to start with the facts.
“Beekeeping is hard work,” she says, point blank. “My friends support what I do, but they just don’t understand how much work and time goes into it. They ask me, ‘Wanna go to the lake?’ and I’m always like, “ I can’t. I’m busy.”
Indeed, Victoria is all business. She spends most summer mornings, 8am-12noon – before the heat gets horrendous – traveling to and tending her family’s 28 hives. They are spread-out at three locations throughout Jefferson and Johnson counties … and she doesn’t even drive yet! Her mom, Vicky, is the primary transporter, as well as the honey bottler and sales manager for their products. Victoria’s dad, Mike, is the lead beekeeper when he isn’t working his other full time job at Graphic Packaging. Together, they are Country Sweets. There is no extra help.
Honeybees are responsible for as much as $5.4 billion dollars in agricultural productivity in the United States each year, according to the Pollination Partnership at pollinator.org. Little of that money, however, trickles down to small-scale beekeeping operations. “You just can’t make a living off beekeeping unless you scale up to major commercial pollination,” notes Mike. That would require purchasing thousands of hives, and transporting them to huge farms for seasonal pollination throughout the United States.
But the Tripp family isn’t interested in that kind of operation. They’re in this for the bees.
“I wish people knew how endangered our wild bee populations have become,” Mike said. “Only nine states have enough wild bees to pollinate what needs pollinating.” He notes that it’s going to be up to hobbyist like himself, and his daughter, to keep honeybees thriving.
Local beekeeping is especially hard in states like Georgia, Mike says, where we lack laws protecting honeybees from conventional agricultural practices. “In Tennessee,” Mike said, “all farmers have to register to say where and when they’re using pesticides to give beekeepers warning. In Georgia, they don’t have to do that.”
Georgia’s extreme heat doesn’t help either. Upon this writing, it’s late July, otherwise known as the “Dearth Season,” among beekeepers in this part of the South. Vicky explains: there are two to three months each year during which flower pollen is hard to come by … and this is one of them. Spring flowers have already come and gone. Summer crops have already been pollinated; their flowers have transformed into now-maturing fruits. Most fall crops haven’t been planted yet, and it’ll be a while before the bees find flowers on those. It’s also so dang hot. A honeybee colony maintains its hive at a precise interior temperature of 92-95 F degrees. If it gets hotter than 95, the brood (the baby bees) will die. The worker bees do all they can to fan and forage and cluster and vibrate to thermo-regulate the hive. In the dog days of summer, and the freezing nights of winter, it’s the craft of the beekeeper to know how to help.
The Tripp family digs this part of the work: the constant learning, the mastery, the teaching. In fact, Victoria is regularly invited to share her beekeeping know-how with others, including with the Jefferson County 4H Home School group and with elementary students at the Georgia School for Innovation and the Classics. “I love it when the kids ask questions,” she said. “I can see that they really want to learn.”
Victoria is also the Vice President of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) at Jefferson County High School, and was recently was hired to maintain the hives at White Hills Farm in Dearing, GA.
For Victoria, it is clear that beekeeping will be a lifelong passion, if not a full-on career. While she will always do beekeeping on the side, she says, she’s thinking about going to college to become a Registered Nurse. Such a job will financially allow her to develop her love of local agriculture over time, as a lifestyle.
Victoria’s grandfather, Robert Veatch (who initially got them all into this and, somewhat ironically, is allergic to bees) owns 52 acres of land in Wrens, GA. The Tripps help him grow blueberries and muscadine, and they are working to establish asparagus and elderberry. Victoria envisions further developing this land into the full-on farm of her future dreams. For now, Victoria works with her parents to run Country Sweets as a small, start-up family business that is still in its investment stages.
Honeybees are Victoria’s partners in enterprise. They are also her grounding center. “I think what I enjoy most is when the bees are all calm. I like just getting out there and watching them fly around. You can tell where they’ve been foraging. You can see the colors of the pollen on their legs.”
Vicky hears her daughter’s introspective calm and reflects. “My dad always says he wishes he’d known how much he liked doing this farming work 40-50 years ago … and I feel the same way. You just don’t know until it’s too late.”
With two generations of contemplative posterity as her base, young Victoria — this right-field-playing high school sophomore — is already ahead of the game.
Country Sweets sells their honey – mostly wildflower and gallberry – through Augusta Locally Grown’s OnLine Market on Tuesdays, the Augusta Market on the Riverwalk on Saturdays, the Evans Farmers Market on Thursdays, occasionally the Veggie Park Farmers Market on Tuesdays, and at four local shops in Wrens, Thompson, Waynesboro and Martinez.