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Tell the bees

Cowtowns & Skyscrapers: Saving people by saving the bees is a mission we can all support.

Jennifer M. Latzke, Editor

May 31, 2024

3 Min Read
Beekeeper at hives
BEEKEEPING: The custom of “telling it to the bees” has modern applications to help our farmers and veterans in their mental health recovery.antonio arcos aka fotonstudio photography/Getty images

There’s a custom that traces its roots back thousands of years, where beekeepers tell their hives of important events in the keeper’s household.

Whether a celebration or in times of great sorrow, beekeepers go to the hive and tell the bees. It’s said that if the bees are not told of the news of the household, they will turn sickly, and stop producing honey — or even die themselves.

In fact, it was reported after Queen Elizabeth II passed, her Royal Beekeeper knocked on each hive at Buckingham Palace and Clarence House, and said, “The Mistress is dead, but don’t you go. Your master will be a good master to you.”

I think about that custom when I’m mourning a loss, and it brings me comfort.  

Isn’t it a remarkable tie between humanity and the bees? We rely upon these industrious little beings for pollinating our crops, and they produce a substance that is both delicious and nutritious. Yes, they may sting, but they do so in protection of their hive and out of duty to their queen — a worthy example of loyalty.

More recently, though, beekeeping has been explored as a tool to help those with mental health challenges. And it holds hope.

Souvenirs of service

This week I brought you a story about Valor Honey, an organization out of Manhattan, Kan., that is using bees to help veterans recover from serious mental health issues. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that there are about 18 million veterans and 2.1 million active-duty and reserve service members today.

The statistics of veterans’ mental health are heartbreaking.

Research tells us that 14% to 16% of U.S. service members who were deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq have been affected by post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. But those are the ones who reported their symptoms. The actual number is likely much higher.

We also know that our veterans suffer high rates of traumatic brain injuries, substance-use disorders, interpersonal violence and suicide. Sadly, these conditions don’t just affect the veteran or the service member. They spill over into our families and communities as well.

Maybe some of your families and your communities.

Hope in a hive

Reporting this story on Valor Honey this week moved me. More than I expected.

So many of my friends and family, neighbors near and far, even business acquaintances, have stories that they’ve shared — and some they haven’t shared — of mental health challenges. I grew up under the helicopter flight path of Fort Riley, Kan., after all. I’m aware that farmers and veterans share quite a few of the same characteristics that keep mental health from being addressed.

But there’s something in beekeeping, in the work and the bees themselves, that heals. The research is still being quantified — but anecdotally, it’s working. There is a study from Ireland of farmers reporting that beekeeping improved their emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. Other studies of farmers from Vietnam and Italy concur.

When a retired garrison commander of Fort Riley, Col. Gary LaGrange — himself a veteran with three tours in Vietnam and decades of experience in leading soldiers, says beekeeping works — it works. He says students of the beekeeping courses report fewer suicidal thoughts, less substance abuse and they’re healing.

LaGrange calls it “saving people, saving an industry, saving bees.”

I see it as one more marvel that our bee partners provide humanity.

“Telling the bees” is not a new concept, but it is surely one worth exploring to give our transitioning warriors healing and hope after their missions end.

The 988 Lifeline provides free and confidential support for people in distress, as well as suicide prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones. For veterans, dial 988 and press 1.

About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

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