Updated from an original article written by Adam Ingrao and Ana Heck, Michigan State University Extension; Bridget Mendel, University of Minnesota; and Sheldon Brummel, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Veterans and honey bees might seem like an odd couple, but Michigan State University Extension’s Heroes to Hives (H2H) program continues to show that many military service members are ready to continue serving their nation by protecting our national food security through support of the most important pollinator in American agriculture: the honey bee. For the last five years, the H2H program has been leading the nation in arming veterans, active duty personnel, National Guard members, reservists and their dependents with the knowledge, experience and network to be successful beekeepers.
Heroes to Hives students participate in nine months of comprehensive beginning beekeeping training through a free, hybrid learning program that uses online lectures and hands-on educational experiences at six MSU Extension and education apiaries across Michigan.
“When we started this program, we never expected the response we have seen from the military community,” says Lacey Ingrao, co-founder of H2H. “Service members seem to really understand the importance of honey bees and how they impact our national food security, and many see beekeeping as an opportunity to continue serving their nation and their communities by supporting our farmers with pollination services.”
Since the program began in 2015, H2H has trained nearly 1,000 service members and their dependents from 25 states who currently keep over 4,000 beehives. Alumni go on to start their own beekeeping businesses, keep bees as a hobby and in a few cases, work for commercial beekeepers.
H2H alumni and Air Force veteran Torrie Condet reports that, “Heroes to Hives has helped me increase my knowledge about bees, make lifelong connections with other beekeepers, and reconnect with the spirit of family I felt while I was enlisted in the Air Force.”
H2H was initially designed for service members residing in Michigan. After receiving an overwhelming number of requests from service members across the country, the program opened its online programming to out-of-state service members in 2019. However, despite having access to the full online program, the vast majority of out of state participants have missed out on the hands-on H2H workshops because they have only been offered in Michigan.
In-hive experience is key to developing a comprehensive understanding of the management and handling of honey bees and serves as the most critical component of developing a strong community of support for participants. As a result, program leaders have been working throughout 2020 to expand in-state capacity and bring in university partners that can offer hands-on educational workshops to out of state H2H participants.
Expanding Heroes to Hives capacity in Michigan
In partnership with the Michigan Pollinator Initiative, a new MSU Extension educator position was created in part to support the program’s Michigan based hands-on educational workshops and online educational program. This position was filled by Ana Heck, who brings a wealth of beekeeping experience to the team. She was introduced to beekeeping while working in Nicaragua with a non-profit organization that engaged in rural development projects. Heck then joined the University of Minnesota Bee Lab’s Bee Squad in 2014, where she managed apiaries, provided hands-on and classroom training to beekeepers and managed Bee Squad outreach programs.
Prior to joining MSU Extension, Heck worked in MSU’s Department of Entomology to support beekeeping education initiatives, assist with honey bee research and work with growers, pesticide applicators and other stakeholders to implement policies to protect pollinators.
To further support Michigan veterans at the local level, H2H and the Charlotte Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2406 have partnered to offer on-ground beekeeping education and training at the Post through a new apiary installation funded by H2H. H2H alumni and owner of Gary’s Bees, Gary Brown, will serve as the lead H2H educator at the Post and will hold viewing sessions of H2H online educational materials coupled with hands-on experiences in the H2H-VFW Apiary.
Brown has a long history of leadership within the VFW; he is the past Post Commander of the Charlotte VFW and currently serves as the Michigan Director of the VFW’s Voice of Democracy and Patriots Pen program. As part of the partnership, H2H students will be provided with consistent engagement around VFW support services, programs and opportunities.
Heroes to Hives national education partnerships
In 2021, the H2H program will take a major step towards reaching more veterans across the nation with hands-on education opportunities to compliment the H2H online education program. Partnerships with University of Missouri Extension and the University of Central Missouri, University Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Minnesota will offer students the chance to have hands-on training opportunities in these states and will serve as the basis for partnerships with other universities to launch hands-on H2H educational programming across the U.S.
In Missouri, H2H students will have the opportunity to engage in hands-on training at University of Central Missouri’s Mitchell Street Farm in Warrensburg and receive region-specific management education provided by University of Missouri Extension’s beekeeping experts. The Heroes to Hives Missouri program will also provide H2H students with in-state support, networking opportunities with regional beekeeping organizations, like the Eastern Missouri Beekeepers Association, and direct connections to service providers, like the Missouri AgrAbility program.
In partnership with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s (UNL) Great Plains Master Beekeeping (GPMB) program, all 2021 H2H students will have the opportunity to apply their completed H2H course work to the educational requirements for completing the Apprenticeship level certification of the GPMB program. GPMB is a regional network of beekeeping professionals, researchers and hobbyists that provides training, education, outreach and mentoring for beginning and advanced beekeepers.
The program is structured with multiple tiers (Apprentice, Journeyman and Master) where participants may advance to higher levels at their own pace to refine their knowledge and management skills. This partnership will also offer Nebraska based H2H students the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning experiences as part of UNL’s open apiary hours hosted monthly at the UNL Bee Lab Research Apiary in Lincoln.
Heroes to Hives will also be joining forces with the University of Minnesota Bee Veterans Extension program, which provides free beekeeping education for Minnesota veterans through hands-on beekeeping training and promotes the recreational and professional benefits inherent in working with honey bees. The H2H-Bee Veterans partnership will allow Minnesota based H2H students to participate in hands-on educational workshops at Bee Veterans apiaries in Minneapolis and Rochester. This key partnership will also serve as a coordination center for H2H national programming and will allow H2H and Bee Veterans educators to work together to support the national expansion of H2H through the development of state partnerships, shared resources, veteran focused curriculum, H2H conferences and supporting research on the benefits of beekeeping for veterans.
How to apply
Enrollment for the 2021 program is closed. Service members interested in participating in the 2022 program can complete the 2022 Heroes to Hives Program Interest Form. U.S. Veterans, National Guard members, active duty, reservists and dependents of participating service members are eligible to participate from any location, domestic or international, for free. Those interested in learning more about the program are encouraged to visit the Heroes to Hives (H2H) website and follow us on Facebook. Questions about the program can be directed to H2H@msu.edu.
Interested in supporting Heroes to Hives?
Heroes to Hives is a program entirely funded by private donors and corporations. All donations made to the program support keeping this valuable education and community development opportunity free to our service members. Donations can be made directly to H2H through our website or participate in our annual MSU Giving H2H fundraiser.
— Ana Heck, Michigan State University Extension; Bridget Mendel, University of Minnesota; and Sheldon Brummel, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
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