Inducted: November 13, 2012
Ken Bee did not come from a farming family.
Despite that urban background, and a University degree in Science, Ken eventually became a cash crop farmer and an agricultural innovator, responsible for ideas and organizations that are Canada-wide in their influence.
Ken’s brother, John, with a similar education and multi-career life experience, said the lack of a farm background was an advantage. Starting out in farming in mid-life, they were not burdened with "any preconceived ideas".
They asked questions when they needed to. They sought advice from the most qualified, "then took it!"
Ken was born in Toronto in 1948. He came to Dresden with his parents, Helen and Gordon, when his father became a partner in a small business, Dresden Produce, that initially graded eggs and processed poultry, later shifting to growing and processing turkeys.
Ken attended both Dresden Public and Secondary Schools, before going on to Queen’s University for a degree in Geological Engineering in 1971. In both undergraduate and early graduate years, he worked as a geologist in the Northwest Territories, the Yukon and Northern Ontario. That was a mind-expanding experience and gave him a greater understanding of Canada.
In 1972, the retirement of his father’s business partner brought Ken back to Dresden and the turkey business. His brother, John, after a similar education and career path, joined them a few years later. In 1981, the Bees sold their turkey business to what is now Maple Leaf Foods.
This brought them to a new career – cash crop farming. They wasted no time in adopting conservative tillage methods, including minimum tillage, no tillage, and use of cover crops.
In 1993, Ken became a Director of the Soybean Board and, six years later, became its Chairman. He embarked on this new phase of his career with typical enthusiasm and dedication. Over the next decade, he became the Chairman of a number of influential committees, including Research, Market Development, Negotiations and Government Programs.
One of his prime interests at that time was the potential of bio-diesel fuel, for its economical and environmental benefits. It was a successful promotion, and now bio-diesel fuel is readily available.
Ken was just as enthusiastic about Ontario-produced food grade soybeans. On trade missions to Asia, he emphasized the co-operation of Canadian researchers, growers and industry that had achieved such high quality soybeans in demand in global markets.
In 2000, Mr. Bee threw his weight behind the formation of the Grain Growers of Canada, formed to speak for all grain and oilseed producers across the country. There were limitations on its appeal to Ontario growers, because of their early development of effective marketing organizations. The Grain Growers of Canada continues to speak for Atlantic Canada and Western grain and oilseed producers.
Mr. Bee was the first Vice-President and later President of the GGC, giving him ample opportunity to put his lobbying skills to use. He met with Cabinet Ministers, MPs, bureaucrats and policy advisors to promote GGC interests. Ken and GGC participated in Doha trade discussions at Cancun.
His provincial, national and international concerns did not limit his local activities.
Mr. Bee was Chairman of the Dresden Planning Board, and he and his wife, the former Janice Sturgis, were Presidents of Kinsmen and Kinettes, along with a Life Membership. They have three daughters, Colleen, an Assistant Professor of Marketing at Oregon State University, Heather, a former crop scout with SWAG, married to Andrew MacLeod, a cash crop farmer in the Thamesville area; and Meredith, a teacher in the Province of Quebec. There is one granddaughter, Bridget MacLeod.
Ken was recognized as Agriculturist of the Year by Chatham-Kent Chamber of Commerce in 2008.
Ken, never idle, rounded out his career with two years as a Director on the American Soybean Association Board, and participated in discussions on the U.S. Farm Bill, Market Development and Trade and other issues. One long-time friend of the Bee brothers said there is no limit to what they have done for agriculture. "Farmers across Canada have benefited!"