Each year honeybee colonies in the United States decline an additional 30 percent, according to research published by the nonprofit Bee Informed Partnership and Apiary Inspectors of America. But did you know honeybees and other pollinators produce more than 30 percent of the world's food supply? Last year, Ford launched a global beekeeping program with honeybee hives at its Dearborn World Headquarters. And now Ford has partnered with Michigan State University to help the university with its Heroes to Hives Program.
Michigan is home to 640,000 veterans who are facing a multitude of challenges as they transition from military to civilian life. These challenges include anxiety, depression, dealing with service-related health issues and disabilities and finding career opportunities that are personally rewarding. The Heroes to Hives Program was started by Adam Ingrao, a veteran and now Michigan State University Extension educator, to help veterans who may suffer the effects of PTSD by training them to be beekeepers.
Heroes to Hives had no location to carry out the project in southeast Michigan, where the majority of the veterans are located. So Cormac Wright, Global Energy Systems Project Manager at Ford, coordinated to provide Adam and his crew with a location at Henry Ford's old farm just outside Ann Arbor.
“Heroes to Hives started in 2015; my wife and I had a vision for what this program could do for veterans,” Ingrao says. I had transitioned from the military in 2005 and after that transition, really struggled to find purpose and find that next mission. As veterans, we're service oriented individuals and I wanted to continue serving my country and my community. And really for me, it started in 2010 when I took a beekeeping class at my alma mater, Cal-Poly, San Luis Obispo. When I transferred to Michigan State University to finish my PhD, my wife and I had a conversation about the effects that beekeeping had on me. It really offered me this opportunity to continue serving my country by protecting the most important managed pollinator on the planet.
“And in 2015, we launched the program at our own farm in Lansing, Bee Wise Farms, with five local veterans. From then, the program has just taken off like wildfire. We moved to MSU in 2016 with 15 students; in 2017 108 students, and now we're at a point where we have 280 veterans and their dependents from 25 states participating in the program.”
Ingrao says the program offers many benefits to veterans.
“What we find is as they go through this nine months of being together, seeing one another, interacting with each other in on-ground workshops, these veterans start to build bonds. And the conversations that we see happening over the bees really go from things about biology and management to things that happen in combat or maybe experiences that we've had returning home and struggling.
“And so Heroes to Hives is much more than a beekeeping education. It's an opportunity for veterans to reconnect and to have this broader mission that really gives us purpose, which a lot of us struggle with that when we come back.
“Often times as soldiers we're tasked with destruction, with going and taking over areas by destroying enemy installations. But when we come home, we want to diversify that ability to interact, not just from a destructive perspective, but from a nurturing perspective. And that's what beekeeping offers individuals as they transition is an opportunity to come from that mindset of destruction to that mindset of nurturing and taking care of this small animal.”
Ford has been working to help the honeybee population and partnering with Heroes to Hives was a natural progression.
“I was aware of the plight of honeybees, but to me it was one of those abstract problems like a global warming that seems so big you don’t know where to begin to help,” says Cormac Wright, Global Energy Systems Project Manager at Ford. “I proposed a plan to Ford’s vice president for sustainability at various locations throughout Ford. We have such a large global footprint so this would be an opportunity to educate our employees and to have the conversation around what challenges are facing bees and how we could help.
“When we were rolling out hives at the world headquarters site, we had Adam in for a conversation on how we might help the bees. In the course of our conversation, he was telling me about Heroes to Hives and the issues they had with not having a location in southeast Michigan. And to me, it just seemed like such a great opportunity to step in and offer Ford property to help. We were establishing hives around the southeast Michigan area so if we could dedicate some to the Heroes to Hives Program, it seemed like our partnership could solve this issue for MSU.”
“This partnership is an opportunity for Heroes to Hives to explore these corporate partnerships,” adds Ingrao. “Ford is helping us by offering us a site, and we're also helping Ford by offering our training to their employees. We have 280 veterans and their dependents participating in the program. And we have 440 Ford employees participating in the program.
“And one of the things that I constantly hammer on with my students is we're in a situation where we don't need more beekeepers. We need more educated beekeepers. Because an uneducated beekeeper is just killing bees year after year and that's not helping the problem. That's exacerbating the problem.
“The partnership with Ford shows that we can have an impact by helping veterans, and through these corporate relationships, we can also foster and promote this type of education within an organization. Ford has a global sustainability initiative around pollinators. We want those individuals who want to be part of that initiative within Ford to be the best educated individuals so that they can actually contribute to solving this problem rather than contributing to the problem.”
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