After slowing down in 2017, the Veterans Homestead Project, a nonprofit focused on training veterans in regenerative agriculture, plans to ramp up its educational offerings this year.
The first in a series of agricultural workshops that the nonprofit is planning will be focused on the basics of beekeeping, and it will be held Saturday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 403 in Durango.
Among other changes, including a new location in Breen, the Veterans Homestead Project is adjusting its mission to include more therapy and formal job training, which will allow it to qualify for more grants, said founder and U.S. Air Force veteran Greg Hopkins.
The nonprofit has worked with about 117 veterans and their family members on developing agricultural skills over the last 3½ years.
Working in the soil is emotionally healthy and helps build relationships between combat veterans, who may have trouble connecting with others upon returning to civilian life, Hopkins said.
Some workshops are being held at the VFW to help the organization update its role and relevancy.
“What the VFW is trying to do here in Durango is ensure that everybody starts to recognize the VFW is not a place for veterans to get drunk and talk war stories,” said Hopkins, who is also the post’s vice commander.
Across the country, the VFW has struggled with its image, but Durango’s post has made strides to play a more active role in the community and has won a national award for its volunteer hours, he said.
At the upcoming workshop, the Four Corners Beekeepers Association will give attendees an introduction to taking care of a hive. Working with bees, especially opening hives, can help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder to calm their emotions.
“It’s a really great thing to teach veterans how to get themselves into a good state of mind,” Hopkins said.
The workshop will cover how to care for bees, the equipment needed and other basics, said Carol Tyrrell, director of the Beekeepers Association mentor program, who will be giving the talk.
Declines in bee population have been a concern in the U.S. and sparked interest in raising domestic bees. Operating a hive and revamping a personal garden is one way to help combat the problem, Tyrrell said.
“Anytime you make your environment healthy for the honey bees, you are making it healthy for the feral bees,” she said.
For example, eliminating the use of insecticides and herbicides can help keep pollinators, including bees healthy, she said.
Future workshops are likely to cover greenhouse construction, among other agricultural topics, but specific dates and topics have not yet been set.