The Heroes to Hives program at Michigan State University Extension helps veterans transition from protecting our country to protecting our food. Through this program, veterans learn to become the next generation of small-scale beekeepers. Participants receive free professional training and community development centered around beekeeping.
Heroes to Hives will grow thanks to a new endowment established by Dick L. Wendorf, of Mason.
“This gift is the largest donation ever received by our program,” said Adam Ingrao, MSU Extension educator and founder of the Heroes to Hives program. “It will enable us to ensure our long-term operation and continued engagement of veterans across Michigan to protect the world’s most important managed pollinator.”
A veteran himself, Ingrao and his wife established the program in 2015. Since then, Heroes to Hives has trained 408 military veterans and their dependents. These veterans currently manage over 2,000 beehives across the United States, making this this the largest program of its kind in the nation.
“Michigan is home to over 600,000 veterans who are facing a multitude of challenges as they transition from military to civilian life,” Ingrao said. “These challenges include anxiety, depression, dealing with service-related health complications and disabilities, and finding career opportunities that are personally rewarding. Heroes to Hives offers veterans a chance to reconnect with their brothers and sisters in arms with a common mission of protecting the most important managed pollinator on the planet.”
The Dick L. Wendorf Endowment for Veteran Initiatives will support veterans programs in MSU Extension with priority for Heroes to Hives. An endowment gift like this creates a permanent fund with the university, which is invested to provide perpetual support for the program. A portion of the annual income from the investment is used to address immediate needs and the remaining funds are reinvested to ensure indefinite support.
Although Wendorf was never called for active duty, he was drafted in 1961 and discharged two years later.
“I have army friends now. I have a heart for our military and what they’ve been through. I was fortunate to not have been on the front line. I can afford to help now and that’s why I decided to establish this endowment,” Wendorf said. “Heroes to Hives is something that can help our veterans.”
Wendorf grew up on a farm in Mason, just a few miles from Michigan State’s campus. After high school, he attended Hillsdale College for a semester until his father was injured, and he had to return home to help on the farm.
'“As a child on the farm I used to watch the bees. They mesmerized me,” Wendorf reminisced. “Bees are very calming and relaxing. If I can be helpful in growing this program, great.”
Through Heroes to Hives, veterans become students in a 9-month training course complete with both online lectures and hands-on learning in six apiaries in Michigan. During the beekeeping season – typically from May through October – students learn hive handling, hive inspections, pest and pathogen management and beekeeping ergonomics. Heroes to Hives trains veterans on best practices for honeybee health and minimizing loss to sustain bees.
According to MSU researchers, Honeybees are key to ensuring food security because they pollinate 35% of agricultural crops. Over the past decade, beekeepers have reported losing 30-40% of their bee colonies each year due to a variety of challenges. From pests and pathogens to poor nutrition and pesticides, beekeeping has become more tedious and costly.
“Honeybees and veterans face unprecedented challenges as bees are facing the highest levels of annual loss in our nation’s history and veterans struggle with transitioning from service and finding careers that are rewarding and serve a greater purpose,” Ingrao said. “Gifts like this mean so much to our program and the veterans we serve.”
Learn more about the MSU Extension veterans initiative Heroes to Hives.