Sweet Salute: Bee Boot Camp Brings Vets to PIT’s Apiaries

Pennsylvania program teaches beekeeping to former servicepeople

By Julie Bercik

Published November 7, 2022

Read Time: 2 mins


Imagine the calm of nature: birds chirping, honeybees buzzing. A peaceful environment where stress and anxiety seep away.

“You are kind of in harmony with the nature and the environment around you and it all becomes one,” said Lucy Miller.

Miller, an Army veteran, participates in a small group called Bee Boot Camp that occasionally convenes at one of Pittsburgh International Airport’s remote apiaries that are home to nearly 4 million honeybees.

The group is part of the Pennsylvania Veteran Farming Project, which has four locations in the state, including one of the award-winning 10 bee yards at PIT.

“Bee Boot Camp is our idea to teach beginning beekeeping to veterans,” said director Michael Brooker, a Marine Corps veteran.

Beyond teaching a skillset, Bee Boot Camp can serve as a respite from some of the trauma the members have experienced during their military service.

RELATED: WATCH: Peak Nectar Flow Means Lots of Honey at PIT

“I am diagnosed with PTSD. So sometimes when you have PTSD, you need silence, and you need focus,” said Miller. “That happens when you are out there because you can’t really move fast, and you can’t drop a frame. That quick movement or that jumping could kind of startle the bees.

“Just as I get startled by a quick movement or a loud noise, it’s the same thing with the bees.”

The course is co-instructed by master beekeeper Steve Repasky, who manages PIT’s apiaries. Repasky, who did not serve in the military, said leading the class is a way for him thank veterans for their service.

“You get to see a lot of our veterans kind of let their hair down, so to speak,” he said. “Where they are actually relaxed and they are re-living some of it, but at the same (time) they are sharing in that therapy.”

Member Paul Martin said that camaraderie is one of the most appealing aspects of the program.

“It’s nice being around other people that have shared an experience with you,” said Martin, a Navy veteran. “You can talk to them about things and understand things that other people who weren’t in the service have no idea.”

Each session lasts about four hours once a month. Sessions start with a discussion before suiting up for inspections of bee colonies and wrap up with a review of the day.

The program runs from April through October and covers a lot of ground.

For Miller, who is also raising her own bees, Bee Boot Camp is the perfect experience in so many ways.

“This is fantastic. This is magnificent,” she said.

Go to Top