Magazine article VFW Magazine

Getting a 'Buzz' from Beekeeping

Magazine article VFW Magazine

Getting a 'Buzz' from Beekeeping

Article excerpt

Gary LaGrange is a soldier first and a beekeeper second. The VFW member served three tours during the Vietnam War. Two were in the I Corps region of South Vietnam - 1967-68 with the 198th Light Infantry Brigade and 1968-69 with the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. He then served 18 months between 197173 in Laos with the Military Advisory Group Laos. LaGrange continued his service when he came home, eventually retiring from the Army as a colonel.

As an Iowa-born, Minnesota-bred farm child, LaGrange and his cousin raised bees together throughout their childhood. It wasn't until six years ago that LaGrange revisited beekeeping.

"I just did it to keep myself occupied," said LaGrange, a member of VFW Post 1786 in Manhattan, Kan. "To me, it's beyond a hobby. It's a great endeavor. It's something special."

Beekeeping is not a new trade, nor is the idea of a veteran taking up beekeeping. In fact, the story has been written about before, including in the classic American novel Keeper of the Bees, by Gene StrattonPorter. The book focuses on a WWI veteran who finds solace in beekeeping after returning home from war.

And today, much like in the novel written almost 100 years ago, LaGrange helps fellow veterans and active-duty troops find peace through beekeeping.

LaGrange is the director of SAVE Farm - Servicemember Agricultural Vocational Education Farm - which he helped establish about five years ago in conjunction with the Army's Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Riley in Kansas. He also received input from his daughter, who is a clinical psychologist specializing in post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

"My daughter was working with soldiers at Fort Riley where they have a greenhouse," LaGrange said. "She discovered there is healing there."

Working with the Department of Agriculture and VA, LaGrange and a board of directors developed the idea of a training farm, not just to promote healing physically and mentally, but also to teach a trade that could offer career opportunities to transitioning veterans.

"We thought a training farm would be a great way to recover from issues veterans and servicemembers bring back - visible and invisible wounds," LaGrange said.


Located near Manhattan, Kan., the apiary program at SAVE teaches veterans how to work with bees and how to build and sell beekeeping equipment. Veterans learn woodworking, metalworking and business acumen, among other farming skills.

According to LaGrange, one third of the foodstuffs that Americans eat is made possible because of honeybee pollination. Unfortunately, beekeepers have experienced a troubling loss of some 30 percent to 40 percent of colonies each year. LaGrange attributes the loss to several factors, including insecticides, herbicides and the Varroa mite, which drains the bees of their "blood equivalent" and passes on viruses.

"It became most notable about 15 years ago when the mite found its way to the U.S. and spread rapidly," he said. "More than 50 percent of all hives in this country were lost within a couple of years."

With some 1.5 million transitioning veterans and servicemembers seeking a path after life in the military, the necessity for veteran beekeeping programs became clear.

"Although it's a niche, it's a large endeavor," LaGrange said of the farm's apiary program.

In 2013, SAVE accepted eight veterans and servicemembers to test the program. Since then, 228 have completed training in basic and commercial beekeeping practices. The farm provides modified equipment to accommodate amputees or others with disabilities. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.