2020 VBA Winter Meeting Beekeeper Recognition Awards

The VBA Recognition Committee has selected the following individuals for recognition in three categories:

Friend of the Bees

Jane Sorenson, River Berry Farm, Fairfax, VT

Jane is passionate about pollinator habitat enhancement and loves any opportunity to spread the word. She is a full-time farmer and co-owner of River Berry Farm, an organic fruit and vegetable farm in Fairfax, Vermont, where she grows and sells native plants for pollinators on-farm and through her on-line nursery, Northeast Pollinator Plants.

She recently launched Northeast Wild Seed Collectors, a website to encourage and coordinate efforts to collect and to provide native plant business’ access to local provenance native seeds with a focus on plants for pollinator habitat.

She served on the Vermont Pollinator Protection Committee who recommended legislation for pollinator protection and has testified to the state legislature to restrict neonicotinoid pesticide use.

Jane teaches one course at UVM, Landscape Design for Pollinators, and is a retired landscape architect with 14 years experience."


Friend of the Bees

Mark Starrett, Associate Professor in Plant and Soil Science Burlington, VT Mark Vermont Friend of the Bees Award 2020Mark Starrett

Mark specializes in horticulture, plant pathology and woody ornamental plants with a library of knowledge critical to beekeeping and pollinator health. Mark is the faculty sponsor for UVM Beekeepers Club that he launched in 2016. Beekeepers Club apiary started with five hives in 2016, and this year UVM partnered with Champlain Apiaries to bring more than 30 hives for research and education to the UVM Catamount Farm as part of Vermont Bee Lab. In that short time, the UVM Beekeepers Club has grown to 1,292 members!

Mark’s work at UVM brings enthusiastic and younger skilled beekeepers to Vermont and enlivens VBA events and meetings with their presence. This infusion of young beekeepers is crucial to the bees and to organized beekeeping Mark is a teacher and mentor to hundreds of students, many of whom will become his friends and colleagues and possibly even members of our association.

He dedicates his personal time to volunteer as advisor to UVM Beekeepers Club. He inspires and trains hundreds of beekeepers each year, many of whom will continue as beekeepers – all will retain their lifelong understanding and care for honeybees and wild pollinators.


Mentor/Mentee Pair

VBA Members Kim Greenwood, Mentor and Sarah Braun Hamilton, Mentee Duxbury, VTMentor2020VBA's Fred Putnam and Darci Benoit presenting to Kim Greenwood

As a VBA mentee, Sarah asked lots of questions and, importantly, did a lot of research herself and then brought to her VBA Mentor, Kim, a proposed course of action. Kim would then explain the pros and cons of each approach and then Sarah would decide on a course of action then learn from it. I tried to not tell her what to do, unless she was proposing something that would definitively have a negative impact. Sarah visited Kim’s apiary and spent several hours there, asking questions and watching work the bees. Sarah said she learned a lot from that.

Sarah epitomized the purpose of the VBA mentoring program. She took the initiative to learn on her own and used her mentor to learn about options. Importantly, she took initiative to learn and was willing to take direction when her own plans needed a course correction.

Kim was a great coach not dictating but instead guiding and nurturing.


Beekeeper(s) of the Year

The Mraz family, Middlebury, VT area
Bill, Chas and Isabel, daughter Georgina and son Chas, and nephew Curtis.

Champlain Valley Apiaries is a 3rd generation Vermont family owned business. Founded in 1931 by innovative beekeeper Charles Mraz, they have been BeekOfYear2020Fred Putnam, Darci Benoit, Bill & Chas Mrazproducing delicious Vermont honey for over 85 years. Beside producing quality honey, part of their business mission is to foster sustainable agriculture and promote the importance of honeybees to our food system.

The Mraz family have been influential in the beekeeping world within Vermont and the world. Bill and Chas have helped an incredible number of new beekeepers to become more knowledgeable and successful as beekeepers. They regularly host open hive workshops for the Addison County Beekeepers Association and for the VBA North Yard at the Intervale in Burlington.

They have welcomed new and experienced beekeepers into their processing facility in Middlebury to learn how their company produces some of their hive products.

They have a passion for maintaining pollinator health which became readily apparent during our discussions about neonic pesticides as we were pushing for changes to H.205 last year. Chas and Bill are a super instructors. And Bill can talk bees longer than just about anyone around these parts!

Chas has great patience with new beekeepers. During open hive workshops, he has probably helped newbees find queens and queen cells more than 1,000 times!

(Picture credits: Stephen Mease Photography)