If you’re a veteran or actively serving in the armed forces, you’re familiar with the command “at ease”. For one Hoosier veteran, that was the ideal name for his beekeeping business and orchard, which he started to help other veterans in need.
“I just wanted to give back to veterans. I just enjoy helping them and seeing them get to a good place after they come back,” says Joe Ricker, who founded At Ease Orchard near the tiny town of Wilkinson in Hancock County, not far Greenfield.
Ricker retired after 30 years in the Army and moved to central Indiana to set up At Ease Orchard as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to help support veterans. It is designed to help improve social connections, strengthen physical health and decrease the symptoms of depression and PTSD.
Ricker also has partnered with the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, as well as the National AgrAbility Project, Indiana AgrAbility, and Heroes to Hives—a beekeeping education program run by veterans for veterans.
“I served about a year in Iraq and I did about a year in Afghanistan,” according to Ricker. “A lot of the people I served with always mentioned beekeeping, so I picked up that passion. I also decided that an orchard just blend so nicely with the bees as a pollinator, so it kind of just took off.”
Ricker says he trains veterans to become beekeepers and start their own honey production.
He says he understands the struggles that many veterans face.
“We’ve been in different environments that most people who aren’t veterans sometimes don’t understand. But it’s a difficult environment to try to adjust to when you return home from serving. With that said, being among other veterans helps you open up a little more. You can say, ‘Hey do you remember this?’ You kind of have that camaraderie where people understand what you’re going through,” says Ricker.
He says beekeeping and working on a farm can be therapeutic for many veterans—not only for those who suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome, but also those veterans who may return home with a physical disability.
“I think it helps veterans. It gives them a mission and gives them a reason to wake up because beekeeping and farming, in general, is a little bit like the military—there’s always danger in it.”
At Ease Orchard is a non-profit organization, so the money that’s raised goes back into the farm to help veterans in need.
“We do have a couple of Indiana State Department of Agriculture grants that also help fund us, but we want to continue to make it sustainable where people come back from overseas or get out of the service and have the opportunity then to get into beekeeping if that’s what’s right for them,” says Ricker,
To learn more about At Ease Orchard and how they’re helping veterans in need, visit AtEaseOrchard.com.
Click below to hear the full conversation with Joe Ricker, a 30-year U.S. Army veteran who started At Ease Orchard in Hancock County to help other veterans in need.Joe Ricker (center), along with his wife Annette (left) and son Grant (right) from At Ease Orchard near Wilkinson in Hancock County, Indiana. It’s a non-profit orchard and beekeeping businesses that helps veterans in need. Photo courtesy of the Indiana State Fairgrounds and Event Center.