Denice Traina's first exposure to beekeeping came in 1986, when she was a Peace Corps volunteer assigned to a village in Paraguay.
"I was working with special needs children that year, and my closest friends there were beekeepers," she said. "The farmers knew all about making honey, and that's what got me interested."
Last year, Mrs. Traina combined her interest in beekeeping with an equally ardent desire to offer new opportunities to fellow residents of Augusta's historic Harrisburg community.
"Several of us got together and formed the Harrisburg Honey Cooperative," she said. "I have one hive already and another arriving soon."
Two neighbors joined Mrs. Traina in taking beekeeping classes, and more hives were added at their homes. Last fall, the inaugural honey harvest was proudly packaged into jars.
"You give away a lot when you do something like this, but we ended up taking to market about three cases of half-pints," she said. "We think it was a success, but we also want to expand it."
The cooperative is designed to foster relationships among neighbors and also to generate some revenue to help a low-income family with utilities and health care expenses.
"We even had a honey tasting during a neighborhood block party," she said. "We had samples from the different hives laid out on an ironing board and let everyone sample them."
The hives, which contain about 3,000 bees apiece, also benefit the neighborhood by improving pollination in flower and vegetable gardens, she said.
"I've lived here since 1990, and we have a pomegranate tree that had produced no fruit," she said. "Last year it produced again -- and we think it was the bees."
Instruction for Mrs. Traina and her fellow beekeepers was provided by the Richmond County Extension Service and its master gardener program -- and aided by an education grant from the local Sierra Club, she said. "We'd like to make the program even larger and, someday, start making candles and soap."
This year, the cooperative is seeking sponsors whose contributions can offset the cost of buying hives, tools and a honey extractor. The honey harvested won't be available until later this year, she said, but the group can take advance orders.
For information about the cooperative, its products or sponsorships, call Mrs. Traina at (866) 909-5699.
Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or firstname.lastname@example.org.