Veterans find peace, skills and income with Heroes to Hives
- Published: Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023
WARRENSBURG, Mo. – Few things bring calm to Larry Soles more than opening a hive and hearing the hum of the bees.
Soles is one of a growing group of military veterans who take part in Heroes to Hives, a free program of University of Missouri Extension. The program seeks to address financial and personal wellness of veterans through professional training and community development centered around beekeeping.
Veterans learn through online classes offered by Army veteran Adam Ingrao of Michigan State University Extension, who developed the program. After completing the online portion, veterans get hands-on training in technical skills so they can earn income through the sale of honey and value-added products such as candles, lip balms and mead, a wine made with honey.
MU Extension’s Heroes to Hives program has three sites where more than 250 veterans have attended in-person training – Warrensburg, Mount Vernon and Poplar Bluff. In 2024, Heroes to Hives will open a new site in the St. Louis area.
Soles works with MU Extension agronomist and longtime beekeeper Travis Harper to spread the joy of beekeeping to other veterans. He helps Harper teach beekeeping and marketing at the Heroes to Hives apiary on the University of Central Missouri’s Mitchell Street Farm at Warrensburg.
Soles and his wife, Neena, sell a variety of flavored creamed honey, infused honey and wooden products for other beekeepers under the name of Muddy Creek Honey LLC from their farm in Green Ridge, Mo.
They have created a niche market, with creamed honey making up more than 70% of sales. Creamed honey does not contain cream. Instead, a mixer beats and whips the crystals of regular honey into a creamy, spreadable texture. Distinctive blends are made by combining the honey with natural fruits. Infused honeys get their unique flavors from herbs and spices, with varieties ranging from delicate hibiscus honey to fiery Mango Thai.
Muddy Creek’s honey comes from 60 hives at Soles’ home and 20 hives from nearby property. He makes finely crafted beehive boxes and other beekeeper supplies in a well-equipped wood shop he built with his late father, a carpenter. He sells the wood products at low cost to other veterans. In the past year, he sold more than 200 beehive boxes.
Soles enjoys the extra income, but mostly he enjoys the camaraderie of visiting with other veterans and the public at craft shows and the dozen or so stores that stock Muddy Creek products. He is vice president of Johnson County Beekeepers Association.
Larry and Neena Soles also enjoy meeting with other beekeeping enthusiasts at conferences across the country.
Friendships that come from beekeeping give Soles and other veterans an opportunity to talk openly and confidentially about shared experiences. Soles served in the U.S. Army with the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade. Like many of Missouri’s more than 400,000 veterans, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He attends a weekly meeting of veterans with PTSD in Warrensburg and volunteers with Camp Valor in nearby Kingsville, Mo.
Camp Valor helps ill, injured and wounded veterans throughout the healing process through adaptive outdoor activities such as guided hunting, fishing, shooting, archery and riding ATVs. The organization operates in 14 states.
It is in these encounters that he and other veterans find the gentle hum of the bees who, like them, served others well.
Learn more about MU Extension’s Heroes to Hives program at https://extension.missouri.edu/programs/heroes-to-hives or call 800-995-8503. You can also contact Harper at [email protected] or 660-885-5556.
Larry Soles, a participant in MU Extension’s Heroes to Hives program, checks some of his hives. Soles sells creamed honey, flavor-infused honey and wooden beehive products through Muddy Creek Honey in Green Ridge, Mo. Photo courtesy of Larry Soles.
Heroes to Hives participants learn from Neena Soles, right, of Muddy Creek Honey, at a recent MU Extension Heroes to Hives training session at the University of Central Missouri’s Mitchell Street Farm in Warrensburg. Photo by Linda Geist.
Heroes to Hives participant Larry Soles has a large, well-equipped wood shop where he makes beehive boxes and other beekeeping supplies. He sells the products to other veterans at low cost to make beekeeping more affordable. Photo by Linda Geist.
Writer: Linda Geist
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