Beekeeping Gives Veterans New Opportunities

The ARS Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Lab and the Louisiana Armed Forces Foundation are teaching beekeeping to veterans. (Photo credit: Scott Bauer, USDA-ARS)
The ARS Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Lab and the Louisiana Armed Forces Foundation are teaching beekeeping to veterans. (Photo credit: Scott Bauer, USDA-ARS)

The USDA-ARS Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Laboratory and the Louisiana Armed Forces Foundation (LaAFF) recently hosted a workshop in Baton Rouge, LA, to introduce veterans to beekeeping.

“We want to give back to the veteran community,” explains ARS researcher Michael Simone-Finstrom. “We do that by helping veterans, both new and experienced at beekeeping, learn about honeybee biology including their pests and pathogens. Then we provide hands-on experience with sustainable honey bees our lab has developed so they can raise healthy bees from the start.”

This coaching builds a strong foundation for maintaining healthy colonies, and adds more healthy managed honeybees to the environment which helps all beekeepers, adds Simone-Finstrom.

“People regularly say that working with honey bees is therapeutic and has potential as a business opportunity. So, we met with ARS scientists, decided to hold an open house, and found lots of interest in connecting veterans with bees,” Townsend says.

Veterans with a wide variety of bee experience participated in the workshop. One of the more experienced is U.S. Army veteran C.J. Oliver, whose family produces about 60 gallons of honey annually in Arnaudville, LA.

“We (my family) see this workshop as a good learning experience as we’ve gone from hobby to secondary income to hopefully a full-time business one day,” Olivier says.

ARS’ Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Laboratory is the developer of elite honey bee strains, including bees from Russia, where factors like prolonged winters allow only the sturdiest bees to survive. Today, the Baton Rouge lab is focused on breeding for better resistance to diseases and pests that pose major problems for honey bees.

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