When Rappahannock County resident Ann Harman was 5 years old, she never dreamed her fascination with bees would lead to a career, international recognition, and a humanitarian award.
But it did.
“Some of my earliest memories involve bees,” Harman said. “I watched them fly flower to flower, and I even helped them sometimes.” Harman would often pick up a bee from one flower and place it on another, to her mother’s dismay. Her interest in bees never faltered as she matured.
“I majored in chemistry in college, but I still learned all I could about bees,” she said.
A Washington, D.C., native and Virginia Tech graduate, Harman worked as a chemist for a while, but the pull of the bee was too strong to resist. She eventually took classes in apiculture (beekeeping) and entomology (the study of insects) at the University of Maryland. She moved to Rappahannock County, where she became a beekeeper and worked her way to dozens of awards and recognitions. Her most cherished prize is her recent President’s Call to Service Award, which is given to people who have worked more than 4,000 hours of volunteer service overseas.
“For the early part of my career I worked locally as a beekeeper, author, consultant, board member, and representative of bee-related associations,” she said. “At the time I didn’t think about my skills being needed in other countries.”
Then, in 1993, Harman, then 62, got an interesting phone call.
“At first I thought the man was a telemarketer, so I didn’t pay much attention,” she said. “Then he asked, ‘Can you leave for Hungary in 10 days?’ That got my attention! I replied, ‘Yes! Who is this?’ ”
The person asking her to go overseas was a representative of Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance (VOCA), an organization now paired with Agricultural Cooperative Development International (ACDI). ACDI/VOCA, as stated on their Web site (www.acdivoca.org), is a “private, U.S.-based, non-profit organization that promotes broad-based economic growth and the development of civil society in emerging democracies and developing countries.”
VOCA representatives found Harman after contacting her old college professor, who was familiar with Harman’s vast accomplishments in the field of apiculture.
“They called him to go, but he suggested that I go,” she said.
Ten days later, Harman was on an airplane to Hungary. Eighteen years later, Harman had completed 51 assignments in 39 countries, including Nigeria, Guatemala, Russia, Kenya, Egypt, Nepal, Panama, El Salvador, Bulgaria and Moldova.
“I stayed pretty busy,” Harman said. “People in the developing countries where I served were behind in technology, either because of government oppression or from poverty,” she said. Her mission in each of the countries was to teach beekeepers how to market their honey, as well as increase honey production by utilizing more modern beekeeping methods.
“A secondary benefit of modernization in developing countries is that it results in more bees to pollinate crops,” Harman noted. “Thriving bee colonies benefit communities on multiple levels.”
Diana Roach, senior director of volunteer programs at the ACDI/VOCA, recognized the importance of Harman’s volunteer work and was among those who nominated her for the President’s Call to Service Award.
“I can’t think of a person more deserving of notoriety than Ann Harman,” Roach wrote in an email. “Ann has successfully completed 21 short-term (two to four weeks in length) technical assistance assignments in 14 different countries (with ACDI/VOCA). Added to that are the 23 similar assignments in 11 different countries she has completed with Winrock International since 2001. Host organizations that Ann has assisted have asked her to back time and time again because her knowledge and hands on teaching has helped so many maintain healthy beehives and become successful honey producers.”
Harman said she’s thrilled to receive the award, and is also happy that the art of beekeeping is being recognized as important to other countries’ economies and ecosystems. She’s also happy that beekeeping is recognized as important in America. To do her part in educating American youngsters, she moved her beehives to Verdun Adventure Bound in Rixeyville, where she teaches children the craft she loves.
“It’s hard to put into words my fascination with the bee,” she said. “It’s one of the few social insects and a delight to work with. I’m proud to introduce the wonders of the bee to curious children.”
Harman suggests that people of any age who are interested in beekeeping take a class in apiculture and find a mentor.
“Every state and many regions within states have beekeeping associations that are eager to help,” she said, noting the Northern Piedmont Beekeeper’s Association (www.npbee.org) serves Rappahannock and surrounding counties. Harman also suggests visiting local farmers markets, where beekeepers often sell honey.
“You can discover the wonder of the bee in your own backyard,” she said.