He set up At Ease Orchard as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to support his veteran support program to help veterans. It is designed to help improve social connections, strengthen physical health and decrease the symptoms of depression and PTSD. Ricker researches and applies for grants to fund the program. He partners with several like-minded organizations to help achieve his goal of engaging retired military and first responders.
One program he's partnered with is AgrAbility, a USDA program through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. It aims to enhance the quality of life for farmers, ranchers and other agricultural workers with disabilities. Ricker works with Bill Field, professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue University, and the AgrAbility program to consult on veteran-related programs and provide education and assistance.
Ricker also works through Heroes to Hives, a beekeeping education program run by veterans for veterans. This program works with entomologists and master beekeepers to provide hands-on training. At the end of the educational sessions with Heroes to Hive, veterans are given a hive to use in their own business from At Ease Orchard. They also are certified to work in commercial beekeeping operations or become master beekeepers.
Through the several programs he works with, Ricker will give out 40 hives this year, with a goal of increasing the number each year. He offers programs for veterans to come to the orchard and work with hives. This experience helps veterans determine if they and their family will be comfortable working around the bees and hives.
Ricker donates the honey derived from his hives. This growing season will be the first to produce a crop from the apple orchard and Ricker plans to have veterans out to pick the fruit, which he also will donate.
Another goal is helping veterans have the opportunity to market their honey. Special regulations must be met to sell honey commercially, and the programs Ricker works with like Indiana AgVets help provide the training and resources to meet those requirements.
“Life is about experiences and sometimes you just need that kick to get you over the edge,” Ricker said.
Fortunately, Ricker is there to give veterans the kick needed to give them the lifelong skill of beekeeping.