‘Bee Boot-camp’ gives veterans new missions to focus on

The program also gives veterans a new way to serve their country - by protecting and serving one of nature’s most valuable pollinators.

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A “Bee Boot-camp” in Pennsylvania is helping veterans transition into civilian life while teaching them skills for farming, and it’s causing quite the buzz across the state. 

Bee Boot-camp is an eight-month program put on by PA Veteran Farming Project and Troops to Tractors. The program launched just this year, and was inspired by Heroes to Hives, a program with similar goals created in 2015 by Army veteran Adam Ingrao in Michigan after he discovered the comfort and peace beekeeping brought him as he transitioned back into civilian life. 

Bee Boot-camp is a hybrid of online education, provided by Michigan State University’s Extension to the Heroes to Hives program, and monthly, hands-on workshop at  Forever Heart Farm, owned and operated by US Navy veteran-turned-beekeeper, Rob Mowrey. 

“I started doing bees when I bought the farm three years ago,” he said. “I’ve had some success with it, but I still have a lot of learning to do.”

Last year, the program expanded to include participants outside of Michigan, and this year 476 participants have registered for the unique opportunity, reported Farm and Dairy.

The inaugural Bee Boot-camp in Pennsylvania has 10 veteran participants and is sponsored by the Greater Pittsburgh Disabled American Veterans chapter 8, which has allowed for the purchase of bee suits, hives, and ‘nucs,’ which small honey bee colonies use to start new hives. 

“What I’ve learned is that I don’t know anything,” said Steve Wuebbles, a U.S. Army veteran from Hookstown, Pennsylvania, whose wife purchased bees a few years ago. 

“Bees are a little bit out there as far as an agricultural endeavor,” Ingrao said. 

“Venomous insects are not what people usually gravitate towards. That heightened risk — that really speaks to a lot of veterans. It’s familiar to a lot of us. And the discipline, when you’re at a beehive, you have to be present with the bees.”

“You can look at beekeeping as a game,” said Steve Repasky, president of the Pennsylvania State Beekeepers Association and instructor for Bee Boot-camp. 

“There are infinite levels you have to beat. Every level you beat, you gain another level of confidence, another level of success and you get another goal.”

Whether veterans approach beekeeping as a game, hobby, career, or even just a coping mechanism, the cultivation of bees gives veterans a new mission to focus on and a new way to serve their country – by protecting and serving one of nature’s most valuable pollinators. 

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