By Annette P. Gomes, Warrior Care and TransitionAugust 25, 2017
Near Manhattan Kan., there's a lot of buzz about the S.A.V.E. Farm -- which stands for Service Member Agricultural Vocation Education Corp, a not-for-profit full spectrum farm training program with beekeeping as one of the core subjects.
The farm is the brain child of former Fort Riley Garrison Commander Col. (Ret) Gary LaGrange and his daughter Shari LaGrange-Aulich, a clinical psychologist.
The program's goal is to focus on helping wounded, ill and injured veterans cultivate their future in the varied fields of agriculture by offering internships.
"I understand what it's like to be in combat. You come home and you're having to deal with several physical and mental issues including traumatic brain injuries and Post-Traumatic Stress Disease mixed with the anxiety of transitioning to civilian life. We wanted to ease some of this pressure. There's also a call to save many farms that are in the last generation. The farms are dying so replenishing our next generation of farmers is key," LaGrange said.
"Working with bees requires many emotional attributes such as being patient, staying calm in the midst of angry bees, working slow, being alone and quiet," LaGrange-Aulich said.
"I dealt with those issues, The Department of Veteran Affairs statistics says that we lose 22 Veterans a day to suicide and I was likely to be number 23. In the beginning it was really rocky but I'm a lot better now, said Army Staff Sgt. Tim Heiman, a South Dakota native who was introduced to LaGrange and the SAVE program while assigned to the Fort Riley Warrior Transition Battalion.
The beekeeping program brings participants from basic to commercial operations. SAVE also has its own beekeeping supply operation where Soldiers and veterans build bee hives and components as part of a woodworking and metal working program. The honey and beekeeping supply program also teaches them how to run a small business and all proceeds are used to support the farm.
The beekeeping internship is set up in three levels; apprenticeship, journeyman and master.
Under the apprentice-level Soldiers are taught the basic lessons of beekeeping and how to manage bees.
At the journeyman-level, soldiers learn more advanced beekeeping techniques including diagnosing diseases and how to treat them. Soldiers also learn how to harvest, extract and bottle honey. They also learn to process and use beeswax.
The master in beekeeping level goes into great detail on the marketing of products of the hives and provides extensive knowledge about large beekeeping operations. Students are taught in detail about the anatomy of the bee and to diagnose under a microscope all of the various diseases and conditions that bees can have while living on the farm with their families as they study and apply their learnings over the course of a year. Students are then assigned to a farm and location of their choice.
"I think we have an obligation in this country to do all we can to help our Soldiers recover and make a healthy transition so I made it my mission to help those who wish to farm learn how to do so while recovering from the stressors of combat. They've done so much for us and it's just the right thing to do," LaGrange said.
Tim Heiman agrees. "I'm living proof this program works. It's my way of giving back to Soldiers and I get to do what I love by nature, teach and that's what life is about, helping each other getting to the next level.
S.A.V.E has trained 184 transitioning Soldiers and 24 veterans.