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Eastern Panhandle farm has plenty of buzz

By DAVID CRAFT

The Journal

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.  – Geezer Ridge Farms set up a bee stand at the West Virginia Welcome Center to spread awareness about the Veterans to Agriculture program and the methods that have made them the top apiary in the state.

Mckenna Flohr of Orr’s Farm Market speaks with visitor at the Interstate 81 welcome center. In the background are signs for Geezer Ridge Farm, which provides training in beekeeping.
(Photo by Adranisha Stephens)

Geezer Ridge Farms is a top rated bee farm located in the Eastern Panhandle that goes far beyond the normal duties of an apiary.

The farm is partnered with the state of West Virginia’s “Veterans to Agriculture”initiative under the bee keeping program. Through this partnership, Geezer Ridge provides training for veterans and their families in the field of bee keeping and other apiary sciences.

“The training is all free, and they can come and do all the training and see if its something they want to do,” said Ed Forney, a bee keeper at the farm and coordinator of the event. “The first four classes are with the general public, but then there are some special classes strictly for the veterans.”

One specific aspect of the training that the farm offers is the adopt-a-hive program where those who are interested can choose a hive on the farm and come and take care of it, learning how to bee keep and the necessary knowledge in the process.

Forney addressed the challenges facing veterans in the program and many who wish to join.

“We’re going to a no-labels training that’s open to the general public as well,”Forney said. “You’ll find that the people who need the program the most use it the least because they don’t want to walk into a room where everybody knows when you walk through those doors, you’re struggling.”

Forney said allowing the family members of veterans to attend as well will help combat those feelings they could have.

“It’s really opened up the training, we’ve gotten a lot more veterans,” Forney said.

Geezer Ridge is looking to do more work with the community and other apiaries as well. Continuing their lecture series at James Rumsey Technical Institute on every third Monday of the month, the farm is also looking forward to starting their training programs again in November. The farm has partnered with Blue Ridge CTC to provide an apiary lab at their facility. Geezer Ridge is also currently managing three projects with the Beltsville Bee Laboratory in Maryland, a center for science that Forney attributes the farm’s success to.

“Because we listen to the scientists and stay away from opinion, we have a very low mortality rate,” Forney said.

According to Forney, Geezer Ridge had maintained an 8 percent mortality rate for the USDA-partnered apiary and a 2.3 percent mortality rate for their local apiaries. The average rate for West Virginia is 50 percent and the national average is around 45 percent.

“It’s not us knowing something special, it’s us taking what the scientists have found,” Forney said. “You have to have a full understanding of environmental stressors, systemic pesticides, parasites, bacterias — all of that science results in the best management practice.”

Dave Martz, a veteran and graduate of the Veterans to Agriculture program at Geezer Ridge, also set up a stand for his company Double D’s Bees where he uses beeswax to make candles, lip balms and other products. Martz served 25 years in the Air Force and retired out of the National Guard as a flight medic.

According to Martz, he was instantly drawn to the beekeeping program.

“For my whole life, I’ve been interested in nature and wild life,” Martz said.

Martz has an associates degree in wild life management and also had long term plans of becoming a game warden.

“The West Virginia Bee Keeper program is very popular in our state it seems.”Martz said.

Martz is just one success story from the veteran to agriculture program as there are hundreds at meetings consistently and multiple graduates each season.

Forney offered advice to veterans and those looking to enter the program and start beekeeping.

“The biggest thing is for people to call, ask questions and come out through the apiary with us and do the adopt-a-hive.”

Travelers from I-81 stopped at the rest stop expecting a normal experience, but had the chance to learn more about the apiary world of West Virginia as they interacted with Geezer Ridge and Double D’s Bees throughout the day.

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