AIKEN, S.C. (WJBF) — When Kara and Matthew Rutter retried from the Army, they knew they wanted to serve the veteran community.
“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 Rutter, the President of Project Victory Gardens, said.
The Rutters established Farmer Veteran Coalition of South Carolina and set up Project Victory Gardens, which offers education and agrotherapy to veterans. Among all the animals on their farm, bees are their favorite.
“They [bees] make you become mindful and calm to work with them,” Matthew Rutter, the President of Farmer Veteran Coalition of South Carolina, explained. “If not, you immediately know you’re not in the right frame of mind.”
The Rutters and beekeeper Allen Johnson are now using their skills to teach veterans about beekeeping. It has helped those battling mental health. Marine Corps veteran John Hester has felt the impact firsthand.
“I like doing stuff to keep my hands busy,” Hester said. “I have PTSD and anxiety. Doing stuff like that helps out a lot. I don’t like sitting around and dwelling on things. If I sit around and have nothing to do, then my mind wanders, and I overthink things. It’s no good.”
The experience can be overwhelming for those working with bees for the first time.
“You have to take a few moments, catch your breath and think about what you’re doing,” Matthew Rutter said. “It’s very calming to be inside a beehive.”
“If your mind wanders, you get immediate feedback to bring your mind back to what you’re doing,” Allen Johnson, the co-owner of Johnson’s Bees and Supplies, said. “We don’t like folks to get stung. But, it is a quick reminder — ‘I need to pay attention rather than dwelling on things in the past or being anxious about things that could be happening in the future.'”
Veterans, like Hester, say they quickly realize the benefits of the experience.
“I didn’t think I’d be where I am right now,” Hester said. “That’s for sure.”
“It’s really good to help people be present,” Johnson said. “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.”