A group of veterans and active-duty service members learn about business of bee farming at Churchill Farms on May 24 in Watertown. Above: Rolly Churchill talks about the different types of hive frames that serve as the structure for bees to build the honeycomb. The group toured the bee farm and received hands-on instruction in beekeeping. Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County offers a Farm OPS program for veterans and active-duty service members to connect them with careers in farming and agriculture. (Photos by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)
Soldiers, veterans explore agricultural career paths through Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Farm OPS
Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs
FORT DRUM, N.Y. – The beekeeping business is buzzing at Churchill Farms in Watertown, and two 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers were getting hands-on learning in this career field May 24.
The tour was part of the Farm OPS program through Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) in Jefferson County, which introduces farming and agriculture careers to veterans and transitioning service members.
Participants were introduced to the equipment, clothing and materials needed to manage a bee farm and the process of making honey and other products. They also donned protective gear to work the bee-pacifying smokers while immersing themselves among hundreds of bees for a closer look at the colonies.
“This was awesome,” said Sgt. Samantha Ingraham, a Black Hawk crew chief with 10th Combat Aviation Brigade. “Everything we were shown today was completely new to me. The bees were far more docile than I thought. They weren’t being aggressive because we weren’t being aggressive.”
Ingraham had asked if it was possible to tour a bee farm while enrolled in the Farm OPS Master Gardener Program at CCE.
“Bee farming was something I always found fascinating, and I eventually want to keep my own hive in the backyard – not necessarily for the honey,” she said. “I know that bee populations are dying all over the United States, so if I could provide a safe place for them, make life easier for them and help the environment, I would like to do that.”
Sgt. Max Johnson, with 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, said that he learned a lot about bee farming and honey production from Rolly Churchill’s tour and instruction.
“It was really cool because the bees are flying all over and he is showing us how the bees make honey and how they live,” he said. “Personally, I didn’t know much about bee farming before today, but I think we all were able to learn something new.”
Another farm tour is scheduled from 9 to 10:30 a.m. June 10 at the Zoar Asparagus Farm in Rodman. Paul Haldeman, a Gulf War veteran and former Fort Drum Soldier, practices organic permaculture on his farm, and he will provide insight into a career in asparagus farming.
To learn more about agricultural courses and workshops through Farm OPS and CCE, visit https://reg.cce.cornell.edu. For questions, call (315) 778-8450 (ext. 269) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“There are innumerable opportunities for people to enter the agricultural career field, whether it’s direct farming or even in federal services like the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” said Catherine Moore, Farm OPS project director. “But very few people really understand agriculture or don’t think about it as a career. So, we’re trying to get the word out that this is a great opportunity, and that we’d like to provide very unique, individualized and focused opportunities for them to learn what would work for them.”
She said that veterans can use this program to gain experience and insight into different careers, even if they are not yet sure what exactly they want to pursue.
“If someone comes in and says, ‘I think I want to do this,’ then we will give them the education and experience – boots on the ground, hands-on training – to help them make a decision,” Moore said. “And once they figure out what they want to do, we can give them all the resources to actually go ahead and feel confident in doing that.”
Sloan Rowland, Farm OPS program coordinator, said there is a transitioning Soldier who is conducting a six-month mentorship at a local dairy farm through Farm OPS.
“He wants to eventually get a job in dairy production, and there’s a lot of jobs available right now in that field, so this is his segue into that,” she said. “If he needs extra education on that, the dairy farm can request that through us and we can get him extra workshops and such to get him prepared.”
Ingraham learned about the Master Gardener certification through Career Skills Program (CSP) briefings at Fort Drum Soldier for Life – Transition Assistance Program (SFL-TAP).
“I want to eventually start a tea garden of my own, and I’ve always liked gardening and being outdoors,” she said. “So I was very interested in cultivating that hobby and learning something new.”
While her immediate post-Army plan is to return to school, Ingraham said that she also would be interested in selling tea as a side business.
Johnson said there is a list of more than 60 career fields in agriculture to explore through CSP, and he honed in on the Master Gardener certification.
“You definitely learn a lot in this course – everything from the types of soils, what to plant and where, how to check pH balance and all the common mistakes that can be made,” he said. “I came in knowing absolutely nothing, but it was an interest of mine that I wanted to learn more about. And I learned a lot.”
Soldiers can apply for CSP training and internships at SFL-TAP inside Clark Hall.
“The CSP is designed to help Soldiers gain experience through internships or attain a certification through employment skills training to assist them in finding careers after the military,” said Emily Coslet, Career Skills Program administrator. “The program is open to anyone receiving an honorable discharge who is within 180 days of their separation date. Soldiers are encouraged to start the exploration process nine to 12 months before that date.”
Coslet said that Soldiers who are interested in beginning that process can call the SFL-TAP office at (315) 772-3434, or call CSP at (315) 772-1022 or 774-3410, to schedule orientation.