Minding Your Bees and Cues

Convention Chronicles

By: Becky Masterman & Bridget Mendel

There’s nothing like a great beekeeping meeting. You learn, connect and get inspired. We are still buzzing from the 2023 Tri-State Convention held July 13th-15th with Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota Beekeepers and it is not because of the weekend’s specialty cocktail (Habitat Honey Hooch). Instead, our elation stems from being a part of a weekend where beekeepers and the beekeeping industry invested in bee health and habitat.

Upper Left: Bonnie Woodworth received North Dakota Beekeepers’ Distinguished Service Award.
Lower Left: MHPA President Mark Sundberg accepted the Beekeeper of the Year Award on behalf of Ike Strohmeyer.
Right: Habitat Hour panel discussing issues and opportunities in honey bee habitat. Pictured from left to right, Becky Masterman, John Stolle, Mark Sundberg and Zac Browning.
Photo credits: Katie Lee, Becky Masterman and Bridget Mendel

The convention kicked off with our first in-person Habitat Hour, a Minnesota Honey Producers webinar series that explores habitat education and opportunities. We welcomed about 80 attendees from the three states (and beyond). After enjoying dessert, drinks and conversation, everyone settled down for some habitat chat with John Stolle, South Dakota Beekeepers Association President; Mark Sundberg, Minnesota Honey Producers Association President; and Zac Browning, Bee and Butterfly Fund Board Chairman and North Dakota beekeeper. Our questions to this panel included the role habitat plays in their respective operations, goals for the 2023 U.S. Farm Bill and visions for Tri-State honey bee habitat collaborations. The audience learned about their successes with implementing forage installations for their operations, aspirations for a Farm Bill that supports and protects beekeepers, and a consensus that our states would benefit from working together to promote honey bee habitat.

Over two hundred convention attendees were grateful for the ‘don’t want to miss any of the talks’ jam-packed speaker schedule over the day and a half program. Dr. Judy Wu-Smart, head of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Bee Lab, was the keynote speaker, and her work on pesticides, bee health and the environment was worth the early morning wake up each day. Included in the many presentations: Drs. Marla Spivak and Katie Lee from the University of Minnesota Bee Lab and Minnesota Extension discussed social immunity and breeding for varroa resistance and queen economics, respectively, and Dr. Garrett Slater from the USDA-ARS Lab shared his dud drone data.

The Tri-State Beekeeping Convention raffles included a George
Hansen encaustic painting and commemorative quilt made by
Gretchen Schroeder.
Photo credits: George Hansen and Liz Schroeder

No one will forget the live auction for honey bee habitat anytime soon. People laughed. People cried. Our goal was to raise money to support Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund (B&BHF) projects in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. We were honored by a surprise donation that North Dakota Beekeepers Association president, John Miller, coordinated with Jill Clark of Dutch Gold Honey. Ms. Clark not only shared their generous donation to the B&BHF, but more importantly, shared the impact of how her own property has been transformed by a B&BHF habitat installation. Clark’s description of fields alive with pollinators in the daytime and lit up at night by fireflies triggered emotions in the audience.

A post meeting field trip to MPHA President Mark Sunberg’s farm revealed an
established Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund project buzzing with bees and other
pollinators. Photo credit: Amanda Allen and Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund

Our auctioneer was beekeeper and University of Minnesota Bee Lab favorite, Gary Reuter. The auction item donors and bidders were very generous. Gary put the fun in fundraising and the auction items generated $23,000 for Tri-State habitat projects, including auctioning 50, one pound bags of white Dutch clover that went for $60 each.

The fundraising for flowers did not end with the last bag of clover. Instead, Brent Barkman of Barkman Honey raised his hand and generously matched the $23,000 raised by the live auction for habitat. It is possible that this gesture made one of us shed a tear or two of gratitude.

Raffle tickets were sold throughout the weekend for both a quilt to raise money for the MHPA Ambassador program, and a George Hansen Encaustic Painting donated (by the artist) to support Project Apis m (PAm), whose mission is to support research and efforts that improve honey bee health. Convention attendees were not shy with their support of the quilt that was designed and made by Gretchen Schroeder and their generosity totaled over $1,000. Each $100 ticket purchased for the George Hansen encaustic painting raffle came with a sincere desire to own a work that captured the experience of watching bees gather precious colony nutrition including nectar for honey production. No one would argue the importance of PAm’s work, but this raffle was personal for many. While the raffle raised over $3,000 for PAm, the meeting’s final chapter, drawing the winning ticket, elicited a wave of disappointment in the room and might have been a sad close to a thrilling weekend. Then it was revealed that the raffle winner, Kevin Rader of Beekeeping Insurance Services, had just donated $35,000 in support of Project Apis m and the Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund (even more flower money!). The room erupted in applause and the warm glow of his generous support for bee health and habitat eased the sting of going home without George’s art.

Becky Masterman led the UMN Bee Squad from 2013-2019. Bridget Mendel joined the Bee Squad in 2013 and has led the program since 2020. Both Masterman and Mendel are members of the Minnesota Honey Producers Association and run their Habitat Hour program. Photos of Bridget (left) and Becky (right) setting up for the first in-person MHPA Habitat Hour. If you would like to contact the authors with your own meeting memories, please send an email to mindingyourbeesandcues@gmail.com.

A successful convention requires planners who are relentless in their efforts. Our beekeeping associations were lucky to have MHPA Vice President Liz Schroeder expertly steer the meeting ship with NDBA President John Miller adding speakers and ideas and making sure that every industry issue was represented during the weekend. The attendees were overwhelmed with the excellent trade show and speaker program. Great food and beverages fueled the event and everyone’s generosity to support fundraising efforts gave attendees the sense that they were a part of something special. And they were.

A few takeaways to leave you with:
Multi-state conventions are good for beekeepers, vendors, speakers and the earth. “Tri” it. We think you might like it.
Beekeepers and the bee industry want to make a difference. Try adding a fundraiser for a program that is improving bee health to your convention agenda.
Habitat for honey bees is a critical need; we can all contribute to improving and increasing it, and have some fun along the way.

Minnesota Honey Producers Association’s Fall Habitat Hour Series https://minnesotahoneyproducers.com/habitathour/
Dr. Judy Wu-Smart and the UNL Bee Lab https://entomology.unl.edu/beelab
University of Minnesota Bee Lab https://beelab.umn.edu/
Project Apis m https://www.projectapism.org/
Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund https://www.beeandbutterflyfund.org/