Veterans and bees both have challenging times navigating in the world. Veterans face many barriers when returning home, including mental and physical health issues, social isolation and homelessness, to name a few. Bee populations have been decimated by insecticides, climate changes, habitat destruction and mites. GRuB’s Healing Through Hives works to educate and certify veteran beekeepers, ultimately promoting well-being for people, plants, animals and bees. GRuB is all about community. The letters stand for Garden-Raised Bounty and the “u” is for “you.”

Veterans Returning to Civilian Life

Beau Gromley spent 4 years in the Marines, 10 years in the Army, and medically retired from JBLM in 2017. “Special forces groups are a super close-knit family,” he says. Beau had not expected his transition to civilian life to be such a shock. Though he knew of the horrors of transition into a community, it didn’t prevent his own difficulties. “It was rocky and rough,” he remembers.

Fortunately, he made a connection with GRuB. “We received a personal garden,” says Beau. The garden project supports people to grow healthy food through offering education, vegetable seeds, plants starts, and encouraging connections within the gardening community. “GRuB was so supportive around personal trauma,” he adds.

two beekeepers holding a huge honeycomb
GRuB’s Healing Through Hives programs works with vets to make their livings as beekeepers. Photo courtesy: GRuB

He liked the gardening. “I threw myself into the organic farm program at Evergreen,” explains Beau where he earned his BA in sustainable agriculture and is currently working on his master’s in environmental studies. He became a GRuB gardening volunteer. Now he’s the Community Food Solutions Programs Manager. “I created my position,” he continues. “I got funding to connect vets in the community.”

Victory Gardens and Victory Farmers Led to Therapeutic Bees

One significant project has been the Victory Garden at the Lacey’s Food Pantry. Victory Farmers, who are veterans, get to meet other veterans. For some, talk therapy is effective and for others getting outside and working in a garden is a path forward.

The bees introduced another means to wellness and self-sufficiency. At the Victory Garden Beau met Alan Woods, a certified master beekeeper. Alan wanted to set up two hives to improve the pollination. “I was initially the least fan of bees,” recalls Beau. But Alan, who also had a military career, said he’d do the whole thing. Beau began learning all about bees.

beekeeper at GRuB holding a honeycomb
Beekeeping has been found to reduce the severity of PTSD, something many vets confront upon returning to civilian life. Photo courtesy: GRuB

Healing Through Hives: PTSD Help from Bees

You might not be a fan of bees either and think they are scary. Interestingly, beekeeping has been shown to minimize stress, anxiety and depression. When you get a chance to sit near a hive to observe the comings and goings, you can find that it’s truly meditative and calming. “Victory farming helped with PTSD baggage from the military,” says Beau. “We found that in the gardens and then found it with the bees.”

Becoming a Beekeeper

There are many hurdles to overcome as a beginning farmer of any kind. A student needs access to training, land, capital, mentoring and markets. It’s the same for bee farmers. The Healing Through Hives program is led by vets and farmers to provide mentorship, training, certifications and connections to recourses.

GRuB is partners with The Washington State Beekeepers Association, The Farmer Veteran Coalition, and Woods Bee Company to create a free program to certify and mentor veterans, whether they are casual backyard beeminders or professional beekeepers.

beekeepr standing by a bee hive at GRuB
Beekeeping can be a path for veterans to make a living and improve the quality of their lives. Photo courtesy: GRuB

There are several Healing through Hives Apiary Sites in our area:

  • The Veterans Farm at Orting (Pierce County)
  • The Veterans Ecological Trades Collective (Lewis County)
  • Garden Raised Bounty (Thurston County)
  • The Haki Farmer’s Collective (Thurston County)
  • Growing Veterans (developing) (Whatcom County)

Did you know that Washington is home to 112,000 rural veterans? Unfortunately, they have low benefit and programming utilization. Healing Through Hives offers support through avenues that can be hard to navigate. There are now more than 1,500 farmer veterans in the five-county area who have found purpose and joy in this community. “My favorite part is learning every aspect while creating tangible and rewarding opportunities for people that are worth their time,” explains Beau. Healing Through Hives is certainly for veterans, but anyone can participate. There are scholarships for those in need.

How You Can Help Bees

Bees pollinate 71% of crops providing 90% of the food we eat. Without bees, we won’t be eating much. Bees are essential. If you see bees, don’t bother them. They usually won’t bother you. The fliers that land on your picnic plate are wasps – that’s another story. Pass the word about Healing Through Hives to a veteran or someone who might have interest. You may not be interested in becoming a beekeeper, but you can still be remarkably helpful by hanging Mason bee boxes on the sides of your buildings. They require much less attention and still are greatly helpful to our environment.

You can learn about more programs and the buzz about events on the GRuB website. You can register for Beginning Beekeeper or Apprentice Beekeeper courses online.

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