“It provides a lot of healing that we tend to miss when we are not as connected to nature.”

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Project Victory Gardens Bee Keeping Veterans
Credit: Project Victory Gardens

Kara and Matthew Rutter have a combined 45 years of military service between them. When they retired from the Army, they knew they wanted to continue to serve their country, only this time by helping veterans.

In 2019 the Rutters founded Project Victory Gardens, a veteran-led non-profit farm dedicated to agritherapy, animal therapy, and farm education for military members, veterans, and their families on 20 beautiful acres in Aiken, South Carolina.

"There are a lot of veterans getting out of the military who really want to get back to the land, be in one place, and put down roots because we've been traveling all around the world," Kara told WSAV.

The Rutters were recently approached by the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia, to help with a beekeeping program they were starting with their spinal cord injury patients. With the assistance of VA recreational therapist and master beekeeper Allen Johnson, this month Project Victory Gardens began hosting veterans in their bee yard for "up-close-and-personal bee experiences."

Project Victory Gardens uses horizontal Langstroth hives, which are wheelchair- and disability-friendly. Unlike traditional hives, there is no heavy lifting required, which can be an impediment to beekeeping.

As Kara explained to Southern Living, beekeeping is a wonderful hobby for veterans, particularly those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

"Mindfulness is an essential practice for individuals struggling with PTSD and TBI symptoms and it is equally imperative when working with bees. Bees react to the energy that they receive and will provide immediate biofeedback if they feel threatened," Kara said. "Approaching them in a calm and meditative state will ensure a pleasant experience for all involved."

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The Rutters and Johnson are now teaching veterans about beekeeping to manage their mental health struggles.

"It's really good to help people be present," Johnson told WSAV. "It produces stress relief. It keeps us from making mistakes that can be stressful. It provides a lot of healing that we tend to miss when we are not as connected to nature."