Jamestown woman returns from Asia beekeeping trekGrowing up the daughter of two migratory beekeepers, Katie Klett of Jamestown has been around the flying insect species for most of her life. Now 25-years-old, Klett has returned to Jamestown after spending the past 2 1/2 years pursuing her love of bees while working on a beekeeping and honey production project in western China.
By: Brian Willhide, The Jamestown Sun
Growing up the daughter of two migratory beekeepers, Katie Klett of Jamestown has been around the flying insect species for most of her life.
Now 25-years-old, Klett has returned to Jamestown after spending the past 2 1/2 years pursuing her love of bees while working on a beekeeping and honey production project in western China.
“It was a little overwhelming at first, but there’s something about that place that really makes you want to stay once you’re there,” said Klett, who returned home to Jamestown at the beginning of this month.
Klett was brought in during March 2010 as part of a team of beekeeping and honey production experts to help advance beekeeping techniques that were being used in the remote villages of Shangri-La — about an hour south of Tibet.
According to Klett, China is the largest honey producer in the world, with a market forecast showing that demand for the product is expected to continue increasing.
Bringing Klett on board for the Shangri-La project was sparked by an encounter with a diplomat.
“I met the wife of the United Nations ambassador to China and we got to talking about how they had tried a beekeeping project in 2008 but failed because they didn’t have anyone with expertise to show them exactly what to do,” Klett said.
Klett had initially traveled to Beijing, China, in 2007 after beginning her collegiate studies of the Chinese language at The University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. However, during the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games, Klett said she was forced out of the area in an effort to reduce the number of foreigners there. It was at that time when she relocated to India with a friend of hers that was pursuing undergraduate research.
Klett returned to China one year later in 2009 to work in a protein lab and was officially brought on for the Shangri-La beekeeping project in March 2010.
“The first year, we had a small pocket of funding and just one little village of about 14 families,” Klett said. “Beekeeping certainly wasn’t new to them, but it was just a matter of implementing better technology to help their honey production.”
Klett said the species of honey bees are abundant inside many of the remote, Western Chinese villages and there are plentiful amounts of wild bees in that area of China as well.
In addition to limited funding and having to teach the village brand new techniques, Klett said supplies and the language barrier were two additional obstacles for her.
“It was very awkward in the beginning, because in many of these remote villages they don’t speak Chinese — they have their own languages,” she said.
Through the help of native translators, Klett said the project progressed very well and the project’s budget was increased for the next year, and has been increasing ever since.
“By the time I left, we were helping seven villages in one county, and five villages in another two counties, so overall there were hundreds of people and many families that were now exposed to new technologies,” she said.
Ultimately, with Klett and the project’s help, the villages were able to produce a clean honey product that they were then able to market and sell to vendors in more populous areas of the country — a concept that locals were struggling with prior to the success of this beekeeping project.
Klett will now continue her education at The University of Minnesota in both Chinese and entomology — the study of insects — but said she has plans to go back to western China next summer in addition to visiting Vietnam during breaks in the fall and spring semesters.
Her parents — Bill and Wendy Klett — said it has been difficult with their daughter so far away the past five years, but have been glad to see Katie pursuing her passion.
“When she goes out into the village, it could be a week or two at a time before we talk, so I would worry about her from time to time. But I’m happy for her because I know that she’s happy,” Wendy said.
Bill said his and his wife’s business, which brings them from Jamestown all the way to Texas, is nothing compared to the distances Katie has traveled.
“She’s put us to shame,” Bill said. “But it’s fantastic for her. Though, I must say that when she first started wandering off in Asia by herself, I was getting visibly gray.”
Katie said that while it has already been an adjustment coming back home, she is happy to be back. She said there are definitely some things she will miss about living in China, though.
“Just being with the local people — that’s what I really loved about it. I loved being in their homes and sharing in their lives. Besides helping them out, just getting to know them has really enriched my life,” she said.
Sun reporter Brian Willhide can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org