Vets raising bees on old surface mines

By Dan Heyman
Public News Service

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With a little help from the state, a few veterans have some old surface mines abuzz with a new kind of activity. A year-old program by the West Virginia Department of Agriculture is helping vets set up beehives and raise honey on old mine land.

Photo by Dan Heyman West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick says a small program at the agency is helping veterans become beekeepers on old surface mine land.

Photo by Dan Heyman
West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick says a small program at the agency is helping veterans become beekeepers on old surface mine land.

Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick says they have worked out a deal with some of the mine companies to plant the right kind of flowering shrubs on the old strip jobs. He says they’re training the vets to be beekeepers and helping them get started.

“Putting beehives there, we’re fencing them so the bear don’t destroy them,” says Helmick. “We feel real good about what we’re doing. All the honey we grow, we sell in West Virginia.”

Helmick says they have worked with the Veterans Administration to provide grants for the vets to get started. He says his agency is helping with marketing and with things like fences and training for the vets who want to become beekeepers.

“They bought the equipment, the individuals did, and then we hired a person to work with them,” says Helmick. “They know on the front end we’ve got more need for the honey product in West Virginia that they’ll ever get to.”

Helmick says the state only has a small honey industry but it’s growing. He says last year the state produced a little less than $1.25 million worth. But he says in a year that should be more than $2 million. Helmick says they can sell every drop of what they raise.

“School system will basically take it all, they love what we’re doing. We also have some big customers, like the bread people that buy a huge amount. If you have honey wheat bread, you have to have honey for it, and we have that in West Virginia,” says Helmick.

There are about two-dozen vets in the program now, but Helmick says they plan to expand.

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