By Kevin Kilbane, The News-Sentinel
Promoting locally grown farm and agricultural products is great, Fort Wayne beekeeper Glenn Hile said. Promoting local farm products grown by U.S. military veterans is even better.
"It supports local farmers, and it helps support veterans," Hile said of the state's new Indiana Grown Homegrown by Heroes program.
State officials announced the Homegrown by Heroes portion of the program Monday in Indianapolis. The Indiana Department of Agriculture started the Indiana Grown initiative last year to help local growers promote sale of their products to Indiana consumers.
About 12 people or businesses in the Allen County area have registered as part of the Indiana Grown program. They are among about 380 Indiana Grown program members statewide, a total that includes Hile and 14 other military veterans, said Ben Gavelek, communications director for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture.
Seven of those veterans — which didn't include Hile — were recognized as the first applicants accepted into the Homegrown by Heroes program during the state's announcement about the project Monday at the War Memorial in downtown Indianapolis.
Many U.S. military veterans have trouble finding jobs, said Hile, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves during the early 1970s. The Homegrown by Heroes initiative could give them a sales boost if they start their own business raising and selling produce, honey or other homegrown products, he added, because people like to support veterans.
Veterans who qualify for the program will be able to display a Homegrown by Heroes logo on their product labels and signs. The program is affiliated with the national Homegrown by Heroes program organized by the Farmer Veteran Coalition.
Hile signed up for the Indiana Grown program when he heard about it last fall. He applied for the Homegrown by Heroes project recently after learning about it.
A Virginia native, Hile retired last spring after working for more than 30 years in seed research and development with Syngenta Seeds. He had started beekeeping about 12 years ago after remembering the interest he had in it when he took a class on beekeeping in college.
Going into this winter, he had 35 bee hives at five or six locations around northern Allen County, he said. He and other beekeepers are waiting for warmer weather to find out how many hives and bees survived the winter.
Hile said he harvested about 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of honey last fall, the time of year beekeepers in this area typically collect honey from their hives. He sells his honey during summer months at the Georgetown Square and Salomon Farm Park farmers markets.
He also goes to some local school and church craft fairs from October through December, and he sells directly to consumers who contact him via his Glenn's Natural Honey Facebook page, www.facebook.com/GlennsNaturalHoney.
Hile's products include liquid honey, flavored creamed honey, honey comb and beeswax candles and ornaments.
He's glad Indiana has started programs to help local growers promote sales of their products. Other states, such as Virginia, have had similar programs for many years.
"I just think it is a great idea," he said.