The story was originally published in The Sylva Herald, Feb. 16 edition and online on The Western Carolina Journalist. Honey lovers can get a taste of local honey and learn more about bees and the pollination crisis at the first honey tasting contest at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino on April 26. The contest features three categories of honey – light, light amber and dark amber, said one of the organizers of the event, vice president of Jackson County Beekeepers Association, David Massengill. Honey bottles with the contestant’s number will come with the entry fee of $10 each and need to be submitted by 5 p.m. April 4. Bottles for sample submission can be picked up from local beekeeping clubs or by calling Massengill at 919-820-0319. Contestants must be a member of a Western North Carolina Beekeepers Association. Winners are selected by ticket votes that the casino judges turn in based on their favorite honey sample. A portion of money from the entries goes to the best honey producer, and a portion of proceeds will go to the Little Beekeepers program, part of the local 4H Club. Massengill anticipates over 100 contestants. The event is also a good opportunity for the beekeeping clubs to share resources. Brochures about the background of the honey and beekeeping will be handed out after the contest. “It’s a handshake for everyone,” Massengill said. As people are testing and voting for the best honey, they will learn about the pollinator crisis brought on by the worldwide decline of bee populations. WCU Biology professor, Beverly Collins, focuses on plant community ecology and expresses that the pollination crisis not only affects the bees, but it affects forest trees and wildflowers which bees rely on for pollen. Humans need bees to pollinate crops for food supply to avoid a loss of biodiversity. “Everyone loves honey! Using a popular and necessary food to call attention to pollinator decline can ‘bring the message home’ so that everyone will be more inclined to spread the word and get involved in conservation efforts,” Collins said. To fight the crisis, people can get involved with community projects and invest in planting in their own backyard, she said. The Jackson County Beekeeper’s Chapter started in 2019 with President Allen Blanton and Massengill to educate Jackson County and its farmers. The club now has about 30 members. The club is a nonprofit and does everything it can to educate farmers about pesticides, the lack of food for bees, and the fight against Varroa mites, which are parasites that attach to bees and cause infections. The organization also spends time going to local schools and educating kids about the importance of bees through learning materials like demonstrating what an apple would look like without the pollination from bees. The association meets on the third Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m. in the Jackson County Extension Office in the Skyland Services Center in Sylva. Anyone can come, but members join with a $10 fee that goes towards events, resources and donations.