University of Central Missouri: Heroes to Hives Offers Outlet for Veterans Transitioning to Civilian Life

Military veterans making the transition to civilian life are finding new opportunities for financial growth and wellness thanks to a program that teaches them the art of agricultural beekeeping.

This is part of Heroes to Hives, a Michigan-based program that is offered to United States military veterans through the University of Missouri with resource, land and logistical assistance provided by the University of Central Missouri. UCM, in collaboration with Michigan State University Extension and MU, currently host the agricultural program, where participants are trained in beekeeping.

The program includes in-person opportunities at UCM’s Mitchell Street farm in Warrensburg on a monthly basis as well as a self-paced online course. The 120-acre farm features two high tunnels to extend the growing season, an educational garden and a vineyard. The Mitchell Street facility, which is one of two university-owned farms, offers an ideal environment to cultivate fruits, vegetables and other flora, while also providing a good location for developing apiaries.

One goal for the farm is to possibly create a “storefront” that could help market the agricultural products that the property helps make possible, according to Travis Hume, UCM director of university farms.

“This would allow us, for all the commodities we have raised, to go directly to the consumer,” Hume said, adding that such an initiative, in conjunction with the beehives, would “create a positive explosion in the agricultural business world.”

Honey produced on the farm from the Heroes to Hives is sold to help fund the program. The program is free to U.S. veterans from all branches of the military, their spouses and their dependents over age of 18. All necessary equipment, such as protective gear, is provided to members of the program. Items constructed by the participants during the program, such as swarm traps, can be taken home for their personal use.

Heroes to Hives program organizers hope to make this a productive outlet for military veterans. By providing extensive hands-on experience in a profitable and practical field, the program seeks to assist veterans in their transition from military life by teaching them a skill in which they can benefit financially as well as provide resources to help combat challenges related to issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Heroes to Hives also allows for ample opportunities for veterans to engage in their communities in a unique way through the craft of beekeeping.

Heroes to Hives was founded by U.S. veteran Adam Ingrao, who studied at California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo where he earned a degree in agriculture and environmental plant sciences with a focus on entomology. Since the program’s inception, Heroes to Hives has grown into a nationally recognized pursuit. In recent years, Heroes to Hives has been the leading program for veterans wanting to pursue agriculture opportunities. Throughout the brief history of the program, hundreds of military personnel have completed the course, many of whom now help manage and maintain thousands of apiaries across the nation.

“I was out there (at the farm) this past summer when they had one of their meetings. The veterans I spoke to expressed their appreciation for UCM being willing to host this but more so talked about the opportunity that it gave them to develop an additional skill set, getting to be outdoors, getting to be actively engaged in something they may have always had an interest in or wanted to pursue,” said Kyle Lovercamp, UCM professor of agriculture – animal science and interim department chair.

While this comprehensive program teaches participating veterans of all age groups basic beekeeping, it goes in-depth with apiculture as a whole. Participants not only learn how to collect honey but learn many essential beekeeping skills such as collecting bees, maintaining hives and even preparing the bees to survive year-round. Although the program operates nine months a year, honey bees live year-round, requiring members of the program to ensure their safety long after they graduate.

“Working with Veterans is absolutely fantastic. People always ask me what it is like working hands-on and intensively with veterans for such a prolonged period of time,” said Travis Harper, field specialist in agronomy at MU. “They are just like everyone else. Making up roughly 10% of the Missouri population, they are highly trained and knowledgeable professionals that are a pleasure to work with.”

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