By MARINA WATERS
If ever Jonesborough had an official helper bee, there’s a very good chance it would be Haley Webber — and that’s not just for her love of beekeeping.
“If there is a Miss Jonesborough as far as contributing to the town, it would be Haley Webber,” Genie Herrin, Haley’s neighbor and beekeeping mentor said. “When she wasn’t having to work two jobs, she was volunteering and setting up Music on the Square, serving ice cream on the ice cream day, giving out candy at Halloween at the Lolly Pop Shop. She really contributes to the town.”
Haley is a Crockett student who has a love for volunteering and beekeeping, which she has learned all about thanks to Herrin after her bee-loving neighbor came to Haley’s school for a demonstration when Haley was in middle school.
“(Herrin) owned bees and I was doing a research project for robotics,” Haley said. “After that, I stayed in contact with her and got really into the bees.”
According to Herrin, she noticed Haley’s interest when she first met the young student in her neighborhood.
“My yard hooks into her yard and there are woods in between,” Herrin said. “Haley and all her siblings are outdoor people, so I met Haley helping her brothers and sisters build some sort of fort in the woods. She’s so curious, she probably was watching the beekeeping activities from afar and just asked one day could she watch. I just suited her right up so she really could watch, and that was the start.”
Since Haley first put on that bulky white beekeeper suite, she’s been hooked.
Haley has helped Herrin collect a swarm of honeybees at a nearby resident’s house, which is a regular occurrence for Herrin. But it was clear Haley had truly made it as a beekeeper once she was able to separate a queen’s baby bees to create a new hive.
“We did that so Haley could have her own hive,” Herrin said. “And that’s when I knew we were there. That’s when Haley arrived. When you can do that and keep it alive and feed it in the winter if necessary, then you’re there.”
For Haley, the mental work it takes to take care of a hive is what has kept her coming back all these years.
“There’s always something new to learn,” Haley said. “It’s just really engaging. Once you think you know what you’re doing and you’ve got it under control, another surprise is thrown at you.”
Herrin said its obvious Haley is a very intelligent girl, but she’s also immensely strong thanks to her ROTC training and work ethic.
“Because of ROTC and because she worked construction not last summer but the summer before,” Herrin said, “Haley is very strong, which is wonderful. She’s wholesome as the day is long and she’s active in Downtown Jonesborough and her church. She (stands) by her morals. She’s such a hard worker.”
Haley has also worked with Herrin’s local church group to assist the homeless throughout the area. Though Haley was a bit timid at first, Herrin said, it’s taught the Crockett student a valuable lesson.
“She volunteers as much with the homeless as she does the beekeeping and spreading the word on that,” Herrin said. “What she said she’s learned through that is to not be scared of the homeless. At first they’re so rough looking and unkept, but the more she helped with some of the projects, the more she learned they could be you or me. She heard their stories and she’s the one who made the comment, ‘We’re all really close (to being homeless). It could be us.’ It’s very cool that she has that kind of wisdom.”
Apart from working during the summer and doing any volunteer and beekeeping activities she can, Haley will also be heading off to the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut this summer. She opted to look into the Coast Guard after seeing that it required a lot of something she already has — work ethic.
“A couple of (coast guard) recruiters came into my ROTC unit and they were saying how the Coast Guard is the hardest branch to get into,” Haley said, “So that’s kind of why I wanted to do it. It will make me work a lot harder.”
Beekeeping and being a part of the Coast Guard Academy may seem very different to some, but for Haley, they require a similar aspect.
“They’re both mentally challenging,” Haley said. “With the bees, if something happens, you don’t know exactly what killed them or what came in. There was one time we lost an entire hive and all the bees were dead in the bottom. We had no idea what had happened.”
Herrin and Haley would be eager to tell you how fun beekeeping is, but they also both recognize it’s a needed hobby to help increase the honeybee population.
Haley had plans to start a beekeeping club at Crockett before the school year ended earlier due to the recent health crisis, but she’s still encouraging folks to take up the hobby in Jonesborough.
“Honey bee populations are diminishing a lot especially in the past few years,” Haley said. “So even if just a few people in every town have a couple of hives, that will keep the population up.”
As for Herrin, she’s hoping more folks start beekeeping and see just how healthy the bees in this area are.
“I think the public really knows why we need bees. They tell me when I come to get swarms. Even the children tell me,” Herrin said. “What they need to know is it’s allowed in Jonesborough City limits. It’s allowed in Johnson City city limits now. We need beekeepers because we have healthy bees in our area. Washington County is a good place (for bees). We do not have colony collapse (disorder) in East Tennessee. We are a pristine place to help generate more and more bees.”
It’s obvious Haley considers Herrin the queen bee; it’s also clear Herrin thinks Haley has earned that title herself through hard work and a strong volunteer spirit.
“She refers to me as the queen bee, but honest to goodness, Haley could be the queen bee,” Herrin said, “or at least the princess bee keeping the hive going.”
To learn more about beekeeping go to https://www.facebook.com/Appalachian-Bee-Club-of-East-Tennessee-992893117509204/. To learn how to get started with beekeeping, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/500500083930591/.