Battle Creek, Michigan –
Active duty military members, veterans and spouses gathered at the Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center March 6 to learn how they could help battle a threat, not to national security, but to the nation’s bee population.
Adam Ingrao, from Michigan State University Extension Office, described how America had more than 4 million hives in 1945, but those began to decline after 1950 leaving around 2 million today. To demonstrate the impact of that decline, Ingrao said it takes 70 percent of the remaining hives to pollenate the California almond crop.
“Without those bees, there would be no almonds, Ingrao said.
A fourth-generation veteran himself, Ingrao meant to stay in the military until a serious injury during training forced him to leave active duty.
“I had no Plan B, the Army was my career choice,” Ingrao said.
His spouse encouraged him to go back to school, so Ingrao enrolled in classes at the California Polytechnic State University that included a beekeeping course in his first semester. It was there that he said became excited about something for the first time since leaving the military -- “the plight of the honey bee spoke to me.” He began to use beekeeping as a healing process for himself and a way to get back to nature. When he was recruited by Michigan State University to pursue his doctorate in etymology, the Heroes to Hives program was developed to help share how bee-keeping could help other veterans.
“We have skills and discipline that relate well to agriculture,” Ingrao said. “You served your country and now you can help protect crops and feed people.”
The nine months of online and on-site classes in the program help the students learn to protect their bees from mites and other risks along with ways to keep them from dying out over the winter. The training covers building hives, inspections and maintenance, as well overcoming issues like not being able to lift 50-pound hives by using special equipment.
Ingrao said the feedback from past students says the program helps them connect with nature, allows them to nurture, brings them together with spouses, provides stability and supplemental income. They also learn some therapeutic aspects of bee-keeping like apitherapy. He described how bee stings and beehive products like honey can be used in healing.
The program is not the first to encourage veterans to raise bees. Ingrao said the Agriculture Department published literature in 1919 to help disabled vets use beekeeping as a new career and help with wartime shortages.
“Honey can be a substitute for sugar, which was rationed, and Navy ropes were coated in wax,” Ingrao said.
Heroes to Hives alumni are already operating 2,000 hives in 25 states. Ingrao hopes to restore a million hives by 2030 while building a network of beekeepers in every state. His next round of classes starts March 10 and lasts until October.