Heroes to Hives to expand in 2024

University of Missouri Extension offers Heroes to Hives for veterans who want to learn about beekeeping. MU Extension offers three training sites in the state, with a fourth to be added in 2024. (Photo courtesy of Eric Work.)

Program is one of MU Extension’s efforts with veterans.

In 2024, University of Missouri Extension will add a fourth site for Heroes to Hives, a free program that offers military veterans professional training and community development skills centered around beekeeping.

The fourth site will be in the St. Louis area, which has a large veteran population. Existing sites are in Warrensburg, Mount Vernon and Poplar Bluff. More than 250 Missouri veterans have participated in the program, now in its third year.

Heroes to Hives offers veterans more than just beekeeping skills, says University of Missouri Extension health and safety specialist Karen Funkenbusch. It also offers them a way to connect and share experiences.

The need is great for the more than 400,000 veterans who call Missouri home, she says. Military veterans living in Missouri die by suicide at three times the rate of the U.S. general population. Funkenbusch says the figures are surprising even though Missouri suicide rates consistently rank higher than the national average. Most veteran deaths by suicides occur in veterans 18 to 34 years old. That age group is where suicide ranks as the second-leading cause of death in Missouri’s overall population as well.

Funkenbusch leads several programs for MU Extension that work closely with the state’s veteran population. Among these are Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program, AgrAbility and Heroes to Hives. She also works with groups to promote rural mental health awareness and resources and serves on the Governor’s Challenge To Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans & Their Families.

One indicator of Missouri’s suicide rate among veterans lies in benefits received by veterans. Nearly a fourth of the state’s 442,579 veterans receive some type of disability payment, according the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. These disabilities often include post-traumatic stress disorder. Veterans experience PTSD at a higher rate than the general population, and deployed veterans have even higher rates, says Funkenbusch. The rate is significantly higher among younger veterans.

Heroes to Hives is one of the programs Funkenbusch oversees along with MU Extension agronomist Travis Harper. The program helps veterans address financial and personal issues by offering free training and community development centered around beekeeping.

The program teaches veterans how to establish apiaries and sell honey and wax products. The group also tours veteran-owned businesses throughout the state. But much of Heroes to Hives’ draw is in the social connections that veterans make, says Harper.

Larry Soles, who served in the Army with the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, says he enjoys the peace he feels while working his hives near Green Ridge, Missouri. He sells a variety of honey products and wooden hive merchandise for other beekeepers under the name of Muddy Creek Honey LLC.

“Heroes to Hives and working with bees help me with PTSD,” he says. He loves being outside and feels a wave of calmness come over him when he opens a beehive and hears the humming of bees. He also likes the camaraderie of visiting with other veterans who are beekeepers or aspire to become beekeepers.

“It does me good,” he says.

Veteran Eric Work is another Heroes to Hives participant and volunteer. He attends numerous other MU Extension events for small and beginning farmers.

“As a beginning veteran farmer, I benefit from the amazing high-quality learning opportunities that University of Missouri Extension continually provides, not only to veterans but many other diverse groups that are interested in learning and potentially pursuing new careers,” says Work, a 25-year military veteran.

To learn more about MU Extension’s Heroes to Hives program, go to https://mizzou.us/heroestohives or call 1-800-995-8503.