For 11-year-old Elizabeth Downs—Maine’s youngest beekeeper—there is nothing more rewarding than the sound of bees buzzing.
“They help me because their buzz helps my anxiety,” Elizabeth told The Epoch Times. “I think that's one of the most rewarding things about it; also, the honey.”
The middle-schooler, who studies at Holbrook School, first began beekeeping at the age of 6 and does everything needed to care for her nine hives—which have 30,000 to 60,000 bees each—including looking after eggs, larvae, brood, and the queen.
Getting into apiculture seemed like a natural progression for the pre-teen because she loved gardening so much. The Downs family has a 600-square-foot (55-square-meter) plot dedicated to cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, carrots, peppers, green beans, bee balm, radishes, and four types of squash.
Elizabeth's interest in beekeeping was first awakened when she visited a neighbor who kept bees.
Wanting to encourage their daughter in this newfound hobby, her parents, Rachel and Michael Downs, supported her over the last five years in every way they could.
"I work from home so it makes my schedule a little more flexible to be able to help her when she needs it," said Ms. Downs, who calls herself Elizabeth's "driver and lifter."
Although Ms. Downs offers Elizabeth emotional support, which includes talking to her daughter about what's going on in her hives, she says the ultimate decision about what happens in the hives rests on Elizabeth.
Additionally, Ms. Downs helps her daughter lift the hives, as they can get heavy, especially when they're filled with honey.
Elizabeth has expanded her knowledge of beekeeping by attending meetings with other beekeepers in the state and by taking an online class.
She's become so proficient at beekeeping that she has mentored several of their neighbors, too.
Although it takes about four hours to inspect all the hives, the most rewarding aspect of her labor is the honey, which she calls "liquid gold."
“Store-bought honey is basically just sugar water; it doesn’t have the flavor,” she said. “But my honey has different flowers you can taste, and it’s really cool."
However, like any other craft, beekeeping comes with challenges, and for Elizabeth, the toughest part is getting stung by the bees.
“When she first started beekeeping,” Ms. Downs said, “she would cry and not because it hurt. She would get so upset that the bees would die because when bees sting, they die.”
But for all the stings, Elizabeth usually just takes Ibuprofen, Tylenol, or Benadryl, because they help with the swelling. However, if she hasn't been stung a lot, she just leaves it as it is.
Meanwhile, Ms. Downs adds, another reason the hobby isn't more popular is that it's expensive.
"The financial impact can be a big hit right off the bat," she said.
Despite the drawbacks, Elizabeth and her parents agree that the payoff is worth it. The young beekeeper is serious and passionate about the vital role bees play in the ecosystem.
“Bees are the number one pollinators,” she said, “and honey bees ... contribute thirty percent of all pollination. So, if all bees die, food is going to be very scarce."
Elizabeth plans to go to college to study entomology. While it may seem like her love of beekeeping is all-encompassing, her mom says she’s very well-rounded.
“[She] is compassionate and empathetic. She has a heart of gold," her mom said.
Through sharing Elizabeth's passion for beekeeping, Ms. Downs has a message for other parents.
“It’s important to start getting children involved at a young age, whether it’s beekeeping, whether it’s agriculture, because a lot of beekeepers and farmers and whatnot are of the older generation," she told The Epoch Times. "So, if we don't have people passing these skills down the line, some are going to die off.”