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Beekeepers converge on Buford

Staff Photo: John Bohn Aubrey Gehle, age 11, of Suwanee and Spencer Hammatt, age 10, of Buford, learn about honeybees from Lena Franklin of Eastern Piedmont Bee Keepers during a honeybee festival held Saturday at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center in Buford.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Aubrey Gehle, age 11, of Suwanee and Spencer Hammatt, age 10, of Buford, learn about honeybees from Lena Franklin of Eastern Piedmont Bee Keepers during a honeybee festival held Saturday at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center in Buford.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn John Michael McDowell, age 8, of Auburn, takes a very close look at a honeybee hive during a honeybee festival held Saturday at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center in Buford.

BUFORD -- Backyard beekeeping is getting big in Georgia, according to local enthusiasts of the honey-producing insect.

Beekeeper Howard Reagan said that's because people are realizing more and more that "the further you get from the hive, the more the quality of the honey goes down. You've got to get it from the source."

"Plus," added the Dawsonville resident, "honeybees are just fascinating."

Reagan and hundreds more showed up Saturday for the second annual Honeybee Festival at the Gwinnett Environmental & Heritage Center. Many sold honey produced from homemade hives. Other vendors sold candles and other items made from beeswax.

Those in attendance browsed the products, sampling honey and listening to beekeepers like Reagan talk about their hobby.

Mike and Katie Elia visited the event with children, Scarlett, 5, and Michaella, 2. They dropped by in hopes that "the kids could learn where honey comes from."

Katie Elia said it was "a great time, especially for the kids." Both children came decked out for the festival, sporting black- and yellow-striped honeybee costumes.

Jason West, director of development at the Environmental and Heritage Center, said it's families like the Elias that made the event successful.

"We wanted people to be able to come out and learn about the importance of honeybees," West said.

Heather Fleming, education specialist at the center, agreed.

"All the beekeepers here are backyard beekeepers," Fleming said. "They are able to explain the significance of the hobby to these kids and their parents."

For beekeepers like Reagan, one might say it's more than a hobby.

The Dawsonville man has "30-something" hives at his house.

He shares the fascination with thousands of others across the country who keep apiaries -- or backyard beehives.

"They've always interested me, ever since I was a little kid," Reagan said. "They are very unique insects."