Beekeeper starts a buzz at the OC Fair

A bee sting once caused Amy Cripps' foot to swell to the point where she couldn't walk. Another time, while working with a hive, a stinger ended up in her lip.

"I looked like I'd been clocked in the face," the 32-year-old Costa Mesa resident said nonchalantly.

The injuries didn't scare her off. After working in bee removal for years, Cripps decided to set up her own hive. She now has more than 45 countywide.

"You are going to get stung as a beekeeper, no matter how nice your bees are," Cripps said at her booth at the Orange County Fair.

The threat didn't deter about half a dozen fairgoers as they listened Saturday while Cripps doled out tips on setting up hives.

She and the Orange County Beekeepers Assn. are fixtures at the fair in Costa Mesa.

While crowds lined up to buy honey stick snacks at four for $1, other people nearby opted to get up close and personal at a hive set behind glass near the Pacific Ampitheatre and Centennial Farm.

Finding the queen among the buzzing, wiggling mass of bee bodies wins you a sticker. Kids crowded around.

Over her nine years of hive-related work, public interest in bees has piqued.

Locally sourced food movements and media reports about large losses in the bee population have people buzzing about urban beekeeping.

"There's no bee apocalypse," Cripps said, although she does say it's harder to keep bees than it used to be, especially in Orange County, where many cities — including Newport Beach and Costa Mesa — ban the practice.

"We're not losing that many bees; we're losing beekeepers," she said.

Cripps revels in trying to bring up a new generation of locals to keep hives. After her talk Saturday, she offered to intervene on behalf of a young couple if they run into trouble with municipal regulations.

"We just need a couple of cities to [allow] this to create a snowball effect," she said.

Cripps said she's often the youngest person in the room at bee-related conventions. When she talks groups of students or other kids, she'll play up her youth by bobbing in wearing pigtails.

The rows of earring and a tattoo of a ship on her calf don't hurt.

"The kids get so excited," she said.

It must be contagious.

"Oh my god, holy cow," Cripps said, suddenly pointing to the association's hive. "There's a queen, and she's not supposed to be here."

A second queen had flown into the display. Typically, a hive will have only one queen, and the rest of the bees must have seen the second as an invader.

A semicircle of kids watched as the bees pushed the intruder back toward the entrance, probably, Cripps said, killing her.

"That's incredibly rare," she said, squinting inches away from the glass.

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