A buzz in Vinton: local beekeepers work to educate the public on bees

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Mark and McKenna Paradis (Courtesy: Mark Paradis)

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — What started as a middle schooler’s interest in beekeeping has become a full-fledged apiary for the Paradis family in Vinton.

McKenna Paradis, who will be a sophomore at William Byrd High School for 2020 – 2021 school year, was looking for something to do after school. She became interested in beekeeping when she was in 7th grade and joined the William Byrd Middle School’s Beekeeping Club in its inaugural year.

Her enthusiasm was infectious, and her family started to take part in the hobby as well.

Mark Paradis, McKenna’s father, owns Paradis Apiary in Vinton. The family set up their first hive in February 2019. However, certain ordinances in Vinton made things a little difficult for the new beekeepers.

“We were trying to make some changes in the laws for Vinton, because of laws that were on the books that were not ideal for beekeeping, for the average beekeeper, for the hobbyist,” Mark said.

One of the ordinances stated beekeepers could only work on their hives at night. Mark says this is a risk for both the beekeeper and the hive. Half of the bees in a hive will forge during the day and all return at night.

The Paradis family got with William Byrd Middle School and the Vinton Town Council to come up with new laws. Mark says the Town of Vinton has been gracious with the family and has helped them with the bee permit process. Mark is currently the only registered beekeeper in Vinton.

The Paradis family wants the community to understand the positives of beekeeping, not the negatives.

“When people talk about bees, most people are scared or uninformed about the benefits of bees,” he said. “If we don’t have honeybees, so people don’t know that your fruits and your vegetables and flowers and everything you would normally eat, 95% of the food population within the country would not exist.”

Right now, the family is working on designating a public apiary in Vinton that the Blue Ridge Beekeepers Association would manage. The group is still deciding on a location.

Mark is also the President of the Blue Ridge Beekeepers Association. Him, along with his daughter, talk with other local beekeepers about their hives and issues they may be running into with their bees.

“We know that we’re being proactive and we’re helping the bees to better their lives in general,” McKenna explained. “But not only to do that, but also to help educate other people about beekeeping so they’re not afraid to try new things.”

Many members of the Blue Ridge Beekeeping Association are vocal bee advocates. While people can get information from the internet, Mark suggests talking with local beekeepers to receive advice on beekeeping.

“There’s a lot of information that your fellow beekeepers have that they would love to teach,” he said.

McKenna has written school reports and conducted science project related to the insects. She’s still planning on continuing her beekeeping club activities while also help the middle school beekeepers.

“I walk over to the middle school and talk with the younger kids. I kind of mentor them, help them with everything that they’re learning.”

However, she’s still learning more about bees and beekeeping each day.

“I help the middle school beekeeping club and they help me to learn more about beekeeping in general,” McKenna said. “I love researching to better understand beekeeping, so that I can learn more and help my dad and everyone else in the beekeeping club help to make bees’ lives better and more proactive.”

One reason Mark enjoys the hobby is because it has brought his family together. He, McKenna, his wife, and his other daughter have all contributed to the beekeeping process, whether its working in the hive or packaging the honey.

If you want to learn more about beekeeping, Mark has a Facebook page with photo and video updates on Paradis Apiary. He also suggests reaching out to your local or regional beekeepers associations and groups.

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