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CityFest East Texas concludes with large attendance at weekend events, plans to continue outreach to community

CityFest East Texas wrapped up over a week of events with concerts, families activities and Gospel presentations this weekend and appeared to set a record in the process.

Approximately 10,000 people attended each day of the festival, Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, Tyler Mayor Martin Heines told the crowd, “This is the largest crowd we’ve ever had in the square downtown.”

“The greatest surprise was just the crowd size,” Festival Director Duffy Johnson said. “We’re really pleased that it exceeded our expectations — for all of East Texas to show up on the square here in downtown Tyler.”

When asked about the difference between Saturday and Sundays events, Johnson responded jokingly, “Well, it was a lot hotter today (Sunday), and the power stayed on.” Johnson was referring to the power outage during Christian artist Ryan Stevenson’s Saturday performance. He continued saying, “It’s really just the artist lineup that’s different.”

Sunday’s lineup of artists included performances by Christian Latina artist Marisol Park, Christian artist Pat Barrett, country music star Neal McCoy and hip-hop artist Lecrae.

Saturday featured musical artists Blanca, Stevenson and Newsboys United.

CityFest leadership estimates 1,000 of the attendees came to believe in Jesus Christ and his message, with more unaccounted for from the last night of the event.

Andrew Palau took the stage Sunday night and shared a story about a plane crash he experienced in 2009. That experience led him to consider eternity more seriously.

“It showed me the value and brevity of life,” Palau said. “God told me, ‘You shouldn’t waste another moment, or another day.’ The one thing that God doesn’t promise is tomorrow.”

Now that the CityFest events are over, churches in East Texas have teamed up to keep the spirit of CityFest alive with CityServe: a partnership that addresses social and spiritual needs, such homelessness, racial reconciliation, sexual exploitation and abuse, within the community.

“We have events, we have forums, and we’re actually taking action on these things,” Johnson said. “One of the ongoing aspects is that we’re coming back to the town to continue the Gospel movement — CityGospel is what we call it — where we’re still going to pray together, we’re still going to serve together, and work together as the church community here in East Texas.”

Visit cityserveeasttexas.org for more information about programs after CityFest. The local committee will continue to update the website and Facebook page, Johnson said.

But for now, CityFest is looking forward to what’s next.

“In 2020, we’re going to be in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Brevard County, Florida,” Johnson said. “We always go where we have an invitation from the local churches. There were over 100 churches at the initial invitation for Tyler.”

TWITTER: @Tylerpaper

First generation beekeepers trade the big city for East Texas rural life

Isaac and Meagan Elzner of New Summerfield have a family business that grows up to 20 million employees a year. These 19,999,998 employees (minus Isaac and Meagan) are small, furry insects that collect pollen; they are the bees that create the honey and beeswax products sold by Elzner Farms.

Before bugs entered their lives, the Elzner couple lived a big city life in Houston. An ad online for a beekeeping device spurred Meagan’s interest in a ranch lifestyle. The Elzners began keeping bees at Isaac’s father’s property in New Summerfield on the weekends while spending their weekdays in Houston where Meagan, 34, worked in fashion design and marketing and Isaac, 36, was in the oil business.

As first generation millennial farmers, there was a lot to learn about the business of bees. “We probably weren’t the best beekeepers from the start,” Meagan said. “You don’t really realize what they need.”

Eventually the couple turned their weekend hobby into a full-time job, and they become full-time Cherokee County residents.The couple has two children, Douglas, 4, and Willow, 2.

“We were already looking for something with the kids because in Houston they can’t play in the front yard; there are too many cars,” Isaac said. “It’s slower and quieter out here.”

Elzner Farms produces raw honey and beeswax items like lip balm and hand salve.

Honey is a favorite in the kitchen. For a snack the kids suck honey from the honeycomb or spread it over warm tortillas.

“Douglas likes to hold the bees on his finger,” Meagan said. “If there’s a bee in the house, he’ll put a drop of honey on his finger so the bee crawls on his finger, then he takes it outside. When one lands on his hand, he says, ‘Look I made a friend.’”

The family has about 250 hives every 2 miles within a 30-mile radius of their house. The hives are located on multiple properties including in New Summerfield, Troup, Henderson, Cushing and Reklaw.

Isaac has a college degree in botany that helps him understand how to base his honey calendar off of the local flowers.

“The pollen doesn’t come at the exact time every year,” Isaac said. “Everyone wants a calendar date, but your calendar is nature and what’s flowering.”

They are both members of the Texas Beekeeping Association and Meagan is enrolled in the five-year Texas Master Beekeeper Program.

Elzner Farm’s products are sold at stores across East Texas including Jacksonville business Ritual, Joe Smith Farms and Break N’ Bread, Rusk’s Myra K’s Family Salon, Reklaw’s The Shacks on Main and Tyler’s Whole Health.

Their honey is raw, meaning it is straight from the hive. It’s unheated, unpasteurized, unprocessed honey.

“Typically what’s in the store has gone through a filtration and heating system,” Meagan said. “On a store shelf they heat the honey so it doesn’t crystalize. The filter takes out all the pollen. It makes that crystal-clear type of honey, but you lose all the benefits of eating honey such as taking it for local allergies or for the enzymes. It takes out all the natural stuff people really like to have in their honey.”

Honey is extracted in the summer. In the frames inside the beehives, the bees cap their honey. A tool is used to uncap the frames and let the honey flow out.

“It’s messy; it’s hard; it’s slow,” Isaac said.

After the frames are uncapped, they are placed in an extractor that spins to sling the honey out. After that the honey is stored in food-grade containers.

“It sounds simple, but you can’t be in air conditioning because it will cool down the honey,” Issac said. “It’s hot and really sticky. You’re constantly washing your hands. I enjoy it because it’s fun seeing the fruit of your labor. Most people hate it. Beekeeping is really hard work.”

The hive boxes weigh 40 to 60 pounds each.

The boxes have to be pried open with a hive tool because they stick together.

Each hive has about 60,000 bees, but in the spring it can increase up to 80,000 bees.

It’s a farmer’s life for the Elzners, and they’re proud of the progress they’ve made starting from two hives as a hobby to 250 hives as agricultural business.


Violent crimes up, especially rape, in Smith County according to FBI report

Violent crimes in Smith County saw an uptick in the past year largely due to increases in rape and murder offenses, according to the FBI 2018 Uniform Crimes Report.

The FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program breaks down violent crime by murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. The report collects data annually from October to October.

In 2018, Smith County violent crimes totaled 272 offenses, while 2017 offenses were 252.

Rape nearly doubled within a year with 55 reported in 2018 and 29 reported in 2017.

While an exact reason for increased rapes could not be pinpointed, Larry Christian, Smith County Sheriff’s Office public information officer, said the increase could be due to more victims reporting assault.

“A lot of sexual assaults go unreported,” Christian said. “They feel like they’re ashamed or embarrassed. We call that the second victimization.”

Too many times sexual assault offenders get off because of a lack of reporting. The perpetrator being arrested can be a part of the victim’s healing process, he said.

“Anyone who is victimized in sexual assault needs to come forward,” Christian said. “No one affected by sexual assault needs to carry that on their own.”

He said a lot of times sexual assaults are committed by people the victim knows, such as a friend or someone in their social settings.

Murder and nonnegligent manslaughter totaled eight last year compared to the three in 2017.

These included the beating death of 4-month-old Sofia Ibarra in June 2018, and a murder-suicide that same month, among other crimes. Ibarra’s father, Andres Guadalupe Ibarra, 21, pleaded guilty to capital murder in connection with Sofia’s death and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in May 2019.

Homicides go up and down within any given year, and it’s not unusual to see fluctuations, Christian said.

Robbery decreased from 23 offenses to seven in a year. Aggravated assault increased slightly from 197 to 202 cases.

Aggravated assault is defined as assault with the use of a weapon/deadly force or causing serious bodily harm, according to the FBI.

While reports of violent crime increased, the county saw a decrease in property crime in 2018. A total of 1,345 offenses were reported in 2018, while 2017 saw 1,829 offenses.

Property crime offenses are broken down into four categories of burglary, larceny theft, motor vehicle theft or arson.

Burglary went from 609 to 409 offenses within the year. Larceny theft decreased similarly as well with 747 cases reported in 2018 compared to 996 cases in 2017.

According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report program, larceny theft means the “unlawful taking, carrying, leading or riding away of property from the possession or constructive possession of another.”

Motor vehicle theft went down from 224 cases in 2017 to 189 cases in 2018. Arson offenses remained the same with three reports both years.

Christian said property crimes normally indicate a drug problem. People with drug issues often need to support their habit by stealing property.

“If you make an impact on drug cases, then your property crimes should significantly decline,” he said. “Our patrol division here puts top priority on enforcing drug laws because we know ultimately that’s going to make the county safer to live.”

The sheriff’s office narcotics unit takes an aggressive stance on drug enforcement in the county with proper training and four K-9 units for drugs and tracking, Christian added.

“If we can make a significant impact on the use of illicit narcotics, we can make a significant impact on property crimes and violent crimes,” he said.

TWITTER: @ZWellerman