Oregon veterans find community and therapy in beekeeping class

The “Bee Heroes America Program” teaches veterans a new skill while providing recreational therapy to those recovering from a host of issues such as PTSD. (Cascade Girl Organization/Facebook)

(Tribune News Service) – Braving smoky skies for a while outside, a small group of beekeepers worked in unison one recent morning, checking their small loads near an open field at the back of the VA Southern Oregon Rehab Center in White City.

Dressed in white suits and beekeeper hats, they patiently and calmly awaited instructions on the morning’s work while making sure the hives were properly shaded and all was well with the half-dozen crates on site. .

A class offering by the Phoenix-based Cascade Girl Organization, the “Bee Heroes America Program” has a multi-faceted goal.

Continuing the mission of Cascade Girl, he helps the bees by teaching beekeeping to community members. For veterans, it teaches a new skill while providing recreational therapy for those recovering from a host of issues such as PTSD.

Cascade Girl president Sharon Schmidt started classes last year for veterans of the establishment, offering an online component first and launching the hands-on version in May.

Air Force veteran Sparkle Herink quietly waited for instructions on dismantling the hives Thursday morning.

Packing up his overalls and beekeeping hat, Herink was eager to check out the hives, including at least one recently rescued swarm, and chat with other beekeepers. Herink said she “knew nothing about beekeeping” last May when she saw a newsletter advertising the opportunity to learn.

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

“We had a book and everything. I had reservations. I was really afraid of the bees at first, but we have the costumes and everything and they taught us that the bees don’t really want to hurt us. work.”

Herink said the summer sessions included setting up the hive, shading, tending the hives, rescuing the swarms and harvesting.

“It was really fun to watch and be a part of it,” she added. “I’m excited to keep doing it.”

Paul Davitt, a Cascade Girl board member and beekeeper for nearly a decade, reached out to everyone and presented a kit for attendees to check bees for mites.

Along with Professors Davitt and Patti Carothers, Schmidt explained the monthly dust mite testing process.

“What we’re doing today is a test to see what the state of the bees and brood is inside, and we’ll make decisions based on what we find out,” Schmidt said.

“We’re basically going to shake about 300 bees in a small basin, swirl them around, and pour them into a jar of powdered sugar. The process will kill the bee mites, which is beneficial because the mites will actually try to kill the bees by eating their blood and infesting them.The goal is to determine what the mite load is and decide if they need treatment.

Davitt, along with recreation therapist Chad Burger, helped Herink and others open the hives and peek at the frames inside. Herink smiled as Davitt pointed to a queen bee and handed her a frame to observe.

Davitt said it was rewarding to share beekeeping with veterans.

“More and more people are interested in beekeeping. It’s like the concept of the backyard chicken. People want to raise their own chickens. They want to do beekeeping to raise their own honey. there’s no big return, harvest-wise, but it’s a rewarding experience to be a part of,” Davitt said.

“It’s only our first year, so we’ve been putting the pieces together as we go and seeing what works. We hope to have even more people next year and put it all together.”

Davitt said the logic of a “therapeutic approach” is simple, noting, “Besides learning about beekeeping, recreational therapy is the goal. Conceptually, when you’re working bees, you’re supposed to slow down and y take it easy, so those are the basics.”

Burger said the veterans facility is grateful for the opportunity to bring beekeeping to its veterans.

“Wherever you’re from, it definitely involves mindfulness. You have to be careful what you’re doing,” he said.

“If you’re holding a frame with thousands of bees on it, you really don’t think about anything else at the time. You don’t worry about anything else. You have to be completely present.”

Research and technical jargon aside, Schmidt said, the benefits of learning about and caring for nature are obvious.

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

“So the kinds of benefits that come from being outside and participating in something like that are connection to the community, involvement in something life-giving, involvement in something thing with other veterans without any special pressure, life skills…and a candy treat at the end.”

Herink said beekeeping has proven rewarding. Out of the military since 2000, she said she was grateful for the opportunities to connect with nature and participate in meaningful activities.

“I’m so grateful that they have programs like this for us veterans,” she said.

“Beekeeping is really fun and sounds like something I could take home with me…maybe do it myself one day and share it with others.”

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