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Agriculture community abuzz over Ettamarie Peterson

If you said Ettamarie Peterson had a bee in her bonnet, you’d probably be right.

The longtime Petaluma resident and retired teacher is one of Sonoma County’s most eminent bee experts. A past president of the Sonoma County Beekeepers Association, she edits the group’s newsletter, teaches area youth about beekeeping and tends to her own colony of honey-making insects.

“I enjoy the seeing the process of bees growing,” said Peterson, 81. “I enjoy teaching children and adults about bees. I’ve met so many people because of beekeeping. It’s opened many doors for me.”

For her many years of dedication to the local agricultural community, Peterson was awarded the Excellence in Agriculture award at the Petaluma Community Awards of Excellence. She will be honored at a ceremony April 2 at Rooster Run Golf Club.

Peterson, who has been beekeeping for 27 years, said she was humbled by the honor.

“I was quite surprised,” she said. “I didn’t expect it at all. There are so many people in agriculture doing so many things.”

Raised in Sacramento, Peterson moved to Petaluma in 1972 with her husband, Ray Peterson, and three children. The family lived on a cattle ranch west of town and the children joined Liberty 4-H, an organization in which Peterson was actively involved. She taught sewing and her kids showed their beef cattle.

“4-H was a great introduction to Petaluma,” she said. “It was a great time. We had so much fun.”

Peterson caught the beekeeping buzz completely by accident. One day, while out in the barn, she discovered a swarm of bees had moved into one of the walls. The family was so intrigued by the new barn residents that they replaced a portion of the wall with clear plastic so they could observe the hive.

A beekeeping expert told her to get a box and move the colony to the more manageable location.

“Next thing I knew, I had a box of bees and I joined the (SCBA) club,” she said.

Anyone can taste the sweet honey from Peterson’s Farm on Gossage Avenue, which is open to the public. Besides honey, she sells eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and other seasonal vegetables.

Ruth McClure of American AgCredit nominated Peterson for the award and said that her support of agricultural education is important for passing along skills to the next generation of farmers.

“Not only does Ettamarie have her own hives and therefore produces honey, she is a staunch supporter of educating the public about bees and beekeeping,” she wrote. “Ettamarie promotes the benefits of bees, sustainable ag practices and supporting local ag businesses and services.”

Peterson is known as a go-to source for others who discover bees where they shouldn’t be.

“My favorite thing in the whole wide world is catching swarms,” she said of colonies of bees that have taken residence in inconvenient places like someone’s home. “I can’t wait to get that phone call. It’s like going fishing.”

Peterson removed 20 swarms in the past year, safely transferring the bees to a beekeeping box. She said she does it as a public service and doesn’t charge for her time.

Besides tending to her bees and garden and enjoying her eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, Peterson also likes to write about beekeeping and take photos of bees. Her work has appeared in publications such as Bee Culture magazine, and she may work on a children’s book about beekeeping in the future.

“I like to share the bees,” she said. “They are part of nature. I don’t own them.”

(Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.)

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