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All the 'buzz' of the fair: Beekeeper of more than 70 years to give live presentations

Lewis Struthers of Parkers Prairie shows off his observation hive that will be used during his beekeeping and horticulture presentation at the Douglas County Fair on Friday. (Alexis Habberstad / Echo Press)1 / 2
Struthers has been entering his fruit, vegetables and roses into the fair for judging for years. He specializes in cold crops like blueberries, broccoli and cauliflower. (Alexis Habberstad / Echo Press)2 / 2

At the Douglas County Fairgrounds this week, the Johnson building was buzzing ‒ and not just with excitement.

The Johnson building is located near Heritage Square on the east side of the fairgrounds, and is used to house the hundreds of horticulture entries that are submitted to the fair each year. By mid-afternoon Tuesday, the room was filled to the brim with local flower and produce entries of all kinds.

In the corner of the room was a display of a different kind, though ‒ the frame of a honey bee hive, to be exact. Hundreds of bees crawled on a honeycomb sandwiched between two pieces of glass.

"Kids, as well as adults, seem to be interested. And this is only one frame out of a hive that has 10 frames. I have bees in 12 locations in 150 hives," said Lewis Struthers, a 78-year-old beekeeper from Parkers Prairie. "At one time I used to have as many as 600 hives, but that's too much work to do for an old man."

A bee habit

In his own words, Struthers didn't become a beekeeper. He was born one. The retired family physician said that while growing up in a small town in northwestern Minnesota, beekeeping was always a family affair.

"My father was a beekeeper, my grandmother was a beekeeper, her father was a beekeeper, and I have two brothers that are beekeepers. So it's a family tradition. I learned most of my beekeeping growing up from my grandmother. She was kind of my mentor," said Struthers.

"I always had bees when I grew up. My dad farmed and he could always hire people to drive tractors, but when it came to hiring people for the bees, that was a different story. So I went out there with grandma."

Struthers is also an avid gardener, and has been entering his roses and produce into the fair judging for years. Since retirement, he has expressed this passion by volunteering with the University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener program, a volunteer organization created in 1977 that has grown to include more than 2,300 Master Gardeners like himself in the state. These Master Gardeners share horticulture expertise and each complete at least 25 volunteer hours annually. According to the Extension office, the mission of the program is "to use research-based horticulture knowledge and practices to deliver educational outreach and project-based efforts that inspire change and promote healthy people, healthy communities and a healthy planet."

"I like what I do. This way, I get to interact with the other Master Gardeners, and I can learn from them. We learn from each other. That's part of the advantage of being a Master Gardener," Struthers said.

In his lifetime of gardening and beekeeping, Struthers has shared his expertise in many ways, including teaching adult education classes on beekeeping and produce growing, writing weekly newspaper articles, and even featuring his blueberry-growing property on a Prairie Yard & Garden special on Pioneer Public Television to be aired this winter.

This Friday afternoon at the fair, he will also be giving a presentation on beekeeping at 4 p.m. and blueberry growing at 2 p.m., both in the Johnson building.

"Hopefully they will learn a lot. I enjoy watching things grow, and beekeeping is fascinating. I mean those little bugs are marvelous with all of the things they do and the intelligence they exhibit," said Struthers. "I've been doing this for over 70 years and I still find it interesting and challenging."

You can find Struthers, as well as many other knowledgeable Master Gardeners and horticulture resources, at the Johnson Building on the fairgrounds Friday afternoon and throughout the fair weekend.

And yes, his bees will be there, too.

If you go

WHAT: The Douglas County Fair

WHERE: Fairgrounds in Alexandria, off County Road 82.

WHEN: Thursday-Sunday, Aug. 16-19, from 8 a.m.-10 p.m.

ENTERTAINMENT: At the Alomere Health main stage, the Holy Rocka Rollaz play at 2 p.m. Saturday, Tripwire at 7 p.m. Saturday, and the 70s Magic Sunshine Band at 2 p.m. Sunday.

COST: Adults $7. Children ages 0-10 enter for free. Additional charges for carnival rides.

INFO: Visit www.dcmnfair.com, or call 866-656-3247.

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