Healing Through Hives: Changing the Lives of Veterans and Bees for the Better

vEterans and Bees both have challenging times navigating the world. Veterans face many obstacles in returning home, including mental and physical health issues, social isolation, and homelessness, to name a few. Bee populations have been decimated by insecticides, climate change, habitat destruction and mites. GRuB’s Healing Through Hives works to educate and certify experienced beekeepers to ultimately promote the well-being of people, plants, animals and bees. GRuB is all about community. The letters stand for garden-raised bounty and the “u” stands for “you”.

Veterans return to civilian life

Beau Gromley spent 4 years in the Marines, 10 years in the Army and retired from JBLM in 2017 for medical reasons. “Special forces are a super close-knit family,” he says. Beau did not expect his transition to civilian life to be such a shock. While he knew the horrors of transitioning into community, that didn’t prevent his own difficulties. “It was rocky and rough,” he recalls.

Luckily he made a connection to GRuB. “We got a personal garden,” says Beau. The garden project supports people in growing healthy food by offering education, vegetable seeds, plant starts and fostering connections within the gardening community. “GRuB has been so supportive of personal trauma,” he adds.

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Two beekeepers hold a huge honeycomb
GRuB’s Healing Through Hives program works with veterinarians who make a living as beekeepers. Photo courtesy: GRuB

He liked gardening. “I jumped into the organic farming program at Evergreen,” explains Beau, where he earned his BA in Sustainable Agriculture and is currently pursuing his Masters in Environmental Studies. He became a volunteer GRuB gardener. Now he is the Community Food Solutions Programs Manager. “I created my position,” he continues. “I received funding to connect veterinarians in the community.”

Victory Gardens and Victory Farmers led to therapeutic bees

A significant project was the Victory Garden at Lacey’s Food Pantry. Victory Farmers who are veterans meet other veterans. For some, talk therapy is effective and for others, getting outside and working in a garden is a way forward.

The bees introduced another means of well-being and self-sufficiency. At Victory Garden, Beau met Alan Woods, a certified master beekeeper. Alan wanted to set up two hives to improve pollination. “I was the least fan of bees at first,” Beau recalls. But Alan, who also had a military career, said he would do it all. Beau began to learn all about bees.

Beekeeper at GRuB holds a honeycomb in his hand
Beekeeping has been found to reduce the severity of PTSD, something many veterinarians face when returning to civilian life. Photo courtesy: GRuB

Healing from hives: PTSD help from bees

Or maybe you’re not a fan of bees and find them creepy. Interestingly, beekeeping has been shown to minimize stress, anxiety, and depression. If you get a chance to sit near a beehive and watch the comings and goings, you’ll find that it’s really meditative and calming. “Victory Farming helped with PTSD baggage from the military,” says Beau. “We found that in the gardens and then with the bees.”

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become a beekeeper

As a budding farmer of any kind, there are many hurdles to overcome. A student needs access to education, land, capital, mentoring and markets. The same goes for beekeepers. The Healing Through Hives program is led by veterinarians and farmers to provide mentoring, training, certification and liaison with appeals.

GRuB is working with the Washington State Beekeepers Association, the Farmer Veteran Coalition and the Woods Bee Company to develop a free program to certify and mentor veterans, whether they are occasional backyard beekeepers or professional beekeepers.

beekeepr stands at a beehive at GRuB
Beekeeping can be a way for veterans to make a living and improve their quality of life. Photo courtesy: GRuB

There are several Healing through Hives apiaries in our area:

  • The Veterans Farm in Orting (Pierce County)
  • The Veterans Ecological Trades Collective (Lewis County)
  • Garden Raised Bounty (Thurston County)
  • The Haki Farmer Collective (Thurston County)
  • Growing Veterans (Development) (Whatcom County)

Did you know that Washington is home to 112,000 rural veterans? Unfortunately, they have low utility and programming usage. Healing Through Hives offers support through paths that can be difficult to navigate. There are now more than 1,500 veteran farmers in the five-county area who have found meaning and joy in this community. “What I love most is learning about every aspect while creating tangible and rewarding opportunities for people who are worth their time,” explains Beau. Healing Through Hives is certainly for veterans, but anyone can participate. There are scholarships for those in need.

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How you can help bees

Bees pollinate 71% of crops and provide 90% of our food. Without bees we won’t eat much. Bees are essential. If you see bees, don’t disturb 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 anyone who might be interested. 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 are still very helpful to our environment.

More programs and events can be found on the GRuB website. You can register online for the beekeeper beginner or apprentice beekeeper courses.

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