Heroes to Hives: Veterans embrace new mission with beekeeping initiative

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LANSING (WJRT) - (09/19/19) - When Adam Ingrao left the Army in 2004 he was a bit lost.

"I was alone, and there's a sense of loss when you leave the military," Ingrao said.

Ingrao was a service connected disabled veteran. He decided to go back to school at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. That's when he discovered a new purpose for his life.

"I took a beekeeping class my first semester there, and really that is a point in time that I can point to in my own life where really a transformative experience happened," Ingrao said.

Ingrao and his wife, Lacey, started Heroes to Hives in 2015 after moving to Michigan. There were just five veterans from the community who participated in the program.

"And from that it's grown to where it is now with over 280 veterans participating in 25 states," Ingrao said.

There are training grounds in Chatham, Frankenmuth, Traverse City, Escanaba, Canton, and Manchester.

"What we do is we bring veterans back together over a common interest, and it really stirs that same camaraderie we had in the military," Ingrao said.

Vietnam veteran Frank Bartel is one of the program's students.

"When I have a bad day I can just get a chair and sit it out by in front of the hives and it is just very relaxing watching them work," Bartel said.

In the nine month program the veterans have a truly hands on experience in learning about the honey bees and caring for the hives.

Along with protecting the bee population and its economic value, the veterans credit Heroes to Hives for providing mental healing.

"A lot of our folks that deal with PTSD or traumatic brain injury, you know, they're wrestling with things every day that really are experiences of the past or kind of living in your head ," Ingrao explained. "And what beekeeping offers is an opportunity to practice mindfulness."

"If we can stop one veteran from overmedicating or taking his life we have doubled our mission so that's another way to look at it," Bartel said.

The program is run through Michigan State University Extension and is completely donor funded. To learn more about the program or to sign up to become a student, click here.

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