Honey farmers named Red River Ex Farm Family of the Year

Starbuck-area producers Phil Veldhuis and Vona Guiler embrace a modern model of Manitoba homesteading

Starbuck-area honey farmers Phil Veldhuis and Vona Guiler have been named the Red River Exhibition Association’s 2014 Farm Family of the Year.

The couple, who with their children Timmy and Jayna operate Phil’s Honey, are the 49th Manitoba farm family to be honoured by the Red River Exhibition Association (RREA) since the award’s inception in 1966.

“This annual award celebrates the steadfast people in our rural communities whose efforts continually enhance the way of life of their families, neighbours, and the Manitoba economy. It is our honour to recognize the forerunners in this important provincial industry as we profile the diversity and achievements of exceptionally deserving families,” said Garth Rogerson, CEO of the RREA. “The Veldhuis family are innovators and leaders in Manitoba’s agricultural industry and they personify the qualities recognized by this title.”

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beekeeper with hive

Phil and Vona both came from beekeeping families each with nearly a century of beekeeping in Manitoba. Phil and Vona embrace a modern model of Manitoba homesteading with alternate energy opportunities, sustainability and good environmental practices. Their farm production is certified as local, ethical and sustainable by Local Food Plus.

This family business is a mainstay at the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market where they have sold honey since 1991. Besides honey and candles, their booth is a place where people gather to share ideas about bees, beekeeping, philosophy and fiddle tunes, as son Timmy as been busking steadily in the corner of the booth for over 10 years. Phil’s Honey also sells honey online with the Harvest Moon Local Food initiative (HMLFI) and bulk via BeeMaid Honey.

Phil’s Honey is based on their home acreage near Starbuck, Man. Here, an annual “Bee Party” is held each fall to celebrate the end of the harvest season, and to thank the people who eat the honey and farmers who host the bees.

Phil and Vona are actively involved as volunteers in their community. Phil was president of the board of directors of Le Marché St. Norbert Farmers’ Market for 20 years and currently remains on the board as treasurer. He is also the treasurer of Farmers’ Market Association of Manitoba (FMAM). He has also been president of the Manitoba Beekeepers Association and the Manitoba Cooperative Honey Producers Association.

He frequently speaks to groups interested in food sustainability, ethics and mentors new beekeepers. Phil has hosted exchange beekeepers from the Philippines through an innovative reverse assignment program with CESO (Canadian Executive Service Overseas).

Vona volunteers her time with the Starbuck Recreation Association, Macdonald Minor Hockey Association and the Starbuck Home and School Association. She was also on the Winnipeg Folk Festival board of directors for nine years and the Carpathia School Parent Advisory Council.

Phil has a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Manitoba and currently enjoys teaching basic philosophy at the same institution. Truly passionate about what he does for a living, his master’s thesis explored the idea that the honeybee dance language should be considered a genuine language, not just instinctual behaviour.

“The Veldhuis family stood out in the selection process for Farm Family of the Year. Their passion for what they do, their devotion to the community, and their efforts to bring sustainable practices to their homestead make them a deserving fit for this award,” said Morris Deveson, chair of the Farm Family of the Year Committee.

The Veldhuis family will be officially acknowledged at a reception held in their honour on Monday, June 16 as part of celebrations surrounding the 2014 Red River Ex. For more information visit www.redriverex.com.

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