Online program still shares need for beekeeping

By Tim Hoyle DLA Disposition Services

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While Morale, Welfare, and Recreation’s Family Programs was unable to bring a popular beekeeping expert back to the Hart-Dole-Inouye Federal Center for another Lunch and Learn focusing on opportunities for veterans, there are still opportunities for people to learn this information.

Adam Ingrao, from the Michigan State University Extension Office, gave a lecture on the Heroes to Hives program early last year, but Family Program Manager Lisa Grenon says she was unable to schedule another onsite for this year. In his reply to Grenon’s invitation, Ingrao said he no longer performs promotional talks for individual groups due to the enrollment increase in the program and because he relocated to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and no longer has an office in the lower part of the state.

“For individuals interested in the program I would refer them to our website,” Ingrao said. “There they will find the application for enrollment and our 2020 program preview video, which is essentially the same talk I would give….”

Interested veterans may apply for the 2020 course before Feb. 29.

During his talk last year Ingrao described how aspiring beekeepers could help battle a threat -- not to national security-- but to the nation’s bee population. He explained 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% of the remaining hives to pollenate the California almond crop.

“Without those bees, there would be no almonds, Ingrao said.

Many of the lecture attendees last year were veterans serving the Defense Logistics Agency activities in Battle Creek. As 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 he 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.

Visit the Battle Creek MWR Facebook page to follow the latest Family Programs and other programs and services as well as upcoming events.