Veterans becoming farmers through partnership with Hillsborough County

County helps veterans become Florida farmers
Posted at 3:06 AM, Jan 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-30 06:29:40-05

PLANT CITY, Fla. -- A retired military man is now holding a pretty sweet job thanks to a partnership with Hillsborough County. He is hoping to get more veterans into Florida's agriculture industry.

Christian Ramthun and his wife Stephanie are now beekeepers. They are taking care of dozens of hives so the bees can do their job and pollinate blueberries and strawberries.

"You can see here they're producing up a lot of honey," said Stephanie, showing off one of their hives. "There’s only one queen in the hive so this one looks like it’s doing really well."

It is a tough industry, something the two of them now understand after three years in the business. Some of their struggles were recently detailed in Bee Culture magazine.

"For everyone hundred hives I start with I know by the end of the year I can anticipate only having sixty," said Christian, who made beekeeping his livelihood after twenty-five years serving in the armed forces.

Christian contracts with Tampa Bay area farmers, harvesting honey in Odessa, Riverview, Plant City and Manatee County.

"Agricultural is something that’s been in the back of my mind but I really didn't know how I can get into it," Christian said.

Hillsborough County is filled with veterans looking for jobs. It is is also the fourth largest agricultural producing county in the state. That is one reason county officials are introducing veterans to an industry always looking for more farmers.

"It’s not just driving a tractor, you can start your own farm, you can be a CFO, you can be a logistics person," said Simon Bollin, the Agribusiness Manager for Hillsborough County. "There’s really all sorts of jobs."

Christian and his wife did not know too much about bees when they began.

"It was very stressful in the beginning because we just decided to go big quick with forty hives," said Stephanie.

That is where Christian says his military training began kicking in: resiliency and the ability to learn quickly.

"The ag industry gives you hands-on experience, which is something a lot of military people are used to," said Christian. "They’re used to getting a daily sense of accomplishment and affirmation of their efforts by what they can see at the end of each day."

Christian is now selling the honey his bees are producing and turning a profit. He is encouraging other retired military members to take a shot in agriculture. Hillsborough County is offering resources to help veterans get started. Click here for more information.