Oregon veterans find community, therapy in beekeeping class

The “Bee Heroes of America Program” teaches veterans a new skill and provides recreational therapy for those in recovery from multiple issues, such as PTSD. (Cascade Girl Organization/Facebook)

(Tribune News Service) – A small group of beekeepers braved some foggy skies outdoors on a recent morning, working together to inspect their small cargo near an open field behind the VA Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center in White. City.

Dressed in white suits and beekeeping hats, they patiently and calmly waited for instructions on the morning’s work, while making sure the hives were properly shaded and that everything looked good with the half dozen boxes on site.

The Bee Heroes of America Program, a classroom offering presented by the Phoenix-based Cascade Girl Organization, has a multifaceted purpose.

Cascade Girl continues her mission to help bees by teaching beekeeping to people in the community. For veterans, it teaches a new skill while providing relaxation therapy for those dealing with recovery from multiple issues such as PTSD.

Cascade Girl President Sharon Schmidt started classes for veterans at the facility last year, initially offering an online component and launching a hands-on version in May.

Air Force veteran Sparkle Herink calmly waited Thursday morning for instructions on how to dismantle the hives.

Getting ready to don his beekeeping suit and hat, Herink was eager to check out the hives, including at least the recently rescued swarms, and chat with other beekeepers. Herink said he “knew nothing about beekeeping” last May when he saw a newsletter advertising the chance to learn.

“They did an online course last May for us veterans. It was a one-hour session once a week to teach us some of the basics that we need to know,” he said.

“We had a book and everything. I had some supplies. I was really scared of the bees at first, but we had costumes and everything and they taught us that the bees don’t want to hurt us. They’re just busy.”

Summer sessions include hive building, shading, hive care, swarm rescue and harvesting, Herink said.

“It was really fun to watch and be a part of,” he said. “I’m excited to keep it going.”

Paul Davitt, a Cascade Girl board member and beekeeper for nearly a decade, met everyone and provided attendees with a kit that allows them to check bees for mites.

Along with teachers Davitt and Patti Carothers, Schmidt explained the monthly tick testing process.

“What we’re doing today is a test to see how the bees and the brood are doing inside, and we’ll make some decisions based on what we learn,” Schmidt said.

“Basically, we’re going to shake about 300 bees in a small basin, turn them over, and pour them into a jar of powdered sugar. The process will take the mites off the bees, which is helpful because the mites will actually try to kill the bees by feeding on their blood and infecting them. The goal is to find out what the mite load is and is to decide whether they need treatment or not.”

Davitt, along with recreational therapist Chad Burger, helped Herink and others open the hives and take a look at the frames inside. Herink smiled as Devit pointed out the queen bee and handed him a frame to observe.

Davitt said sharing beekeeping with veterans is rewarding.

“More and more people are interested in beekeeping. It’s like the concept of backyard chickens. People want to raise their own chickens. They want to beekeepers to raise their own honey. There’s not a huge return in terms of production, but it’s a rewarding experience to be a part of,” Davitt said.

“It’s only our first year, so we’re putting the pieces together as we go and seeing what works. Hopefully next year there will be more people and things will be more solid.”

Davitt noted that the logic of the “therapeutic approach” is simple, noting, “In addition to learning about beekeeping, relaxation therapy is also the goal. Conceptually, when you work bees, you should slow down and take it easy. Basic concepts.”

Burger said the veterans’ facility is grateful for the chance for its veterans to be involved in beekeeping.

“In a way, wherever you come from, it definitely involves mindfulness. You have to pay attention to what you’re doing,” he said.

“If you’re holding a frame with thousands of bees on it, you’re not really thinking about anything else in that moment. You’re not worried about anything else. You have to be completely there.”

Research and technical jargon aside, Schmidt says the benefits of learning about and caring for nature are a no-brainer.

“We don’t have any data to show that it’s therapeutic. What we do know is that veterans ideally want to connect with their environment,” Schmidt said.

“So the benefits of being out and participating in something like this are community connection, being involved in something life-giving, being involved in something with other veterans without any particular pressure, life skills … and a sweet treat at the end.” .

Herink said beekeeping has proven to be beneficial. Out of the military since 2000, he said he is grateful for opportunities to connect with nature and participate in meaningful activities.

“I’m so grateful that there are programs like this for us veterans,” he said.

“Beekeeping is really fun and feels like something I can take with me … maybe one day I’ll do it on my own and share it with others.”

For more information or to donate to the program, visit www.cascadegirl.org/beekeeping-for-healing-and-therapy


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