Fulton educator teaches fellow vets about joys of beekeeping

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Longtime educator Tim Doherty of Sandy Springs is back in the classroom — teaching his fellow military veterans about the joys and therapeutic value of beekeeping.

When he’s not putting in 50 hours a week as an assistant principal at Fulton County’s Riverwood International Charter School, Doherty is plotting the post-pandemic reinvigoration of his project, Doc’s Healing Hives.

He started the project in 2017 to teach other vets about the sweet rewards of beekeeping that go beyond honey and money. To date, 65 veterans have gone through his one-day or weekend classes.

Doherty knows first-hand the therapeutic value of keeping bees, having returned in 2016 from a one-year tour of duty in Afghanistan with a torn rotator cuff, an injured bicep, a mild traumatic brain injury, and some of the stresses that many veterans feel readjusting to civilian life.

“I had struggled, and I’m still struggling, transitioning back off my deployment,” he said. “I started beekeeping for my own therapy.”

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Disabled veteran Sue Davis of Traveler’s Rest, S.C., was in Doherty’s class in 2018 and considered it a game-changer.

“Doc’s Healing Hives really does help veterans heal by giving us a purpose, something to care for, connection to other people, and peace,” said Davis, who now owns seven hives of her own and manages two others for a nearby tiny-home community.

When the pandemic forced Doherty to stop holding his beekeeping workshops, he decided to use the downtime to create a learning center on a farm he owns in Morganton, near Blue Ridge. He hopes to resume classes there this fall or no later than next spring.

“Being on the farm and helping others – it is my happy place, my passion, my love,” he said. “It totally gives me purpose.”

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Doherty is hardly the first to see the potential benefits of beekeeping. As far back as 1919, the federal government recommended that U.S. troops returning from World War I, especially those with disabilities, consider beekeeping as a profession. The Department of Veterans Affairs currently offers beekeeping classes at several of its medical centers as part of its recreational therapy programs. Some participating vets report that beekeeping has improved their social connections and helped decrease their depression and post-traumatic stress.

For Doherty, beekeeping helped as he transitioned back from an action-packed year, in which he served as deputy surgeon for the NATO Special Operations Component/Command Afghanistan and was injured in an attack on his installation. Upon returning to the U.S., he spent several months at Fort Stewart near Savannah, trying to convince the Army to ultimately do five surgeries for his injuries.

“It was very frustrating to me,” he said.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Once home, Doherty jumped into beekeeping quickly, going from owning one hive to two, then 14 and 20, before deciding to also teach other vets about the insects most people hope to avoid.

Mike Reynolds, a farmer from Calhoun, attended the very first Doc’s Healing Hives workshop, knowing nothing about raising bees.

Today, he sells some of the honey from his four hives. The rest he either gives to poor veterans or uses at home as a sugar substitute, he said.

Reynolds compares honey farming to shooting. “When you go to shoot, you’ve got to calm down so you can aim. Working bees is the same thing. You’ve got to calm down.”

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

A beekeeping class costs about $1,000 due to the equipment that is required. Doherty usually fundraises and throws in money of his own to eliminate the costs for veterans. He also has personally invested $300,000 in the workshop space on his Morganton property.

And he hasn’t stopped there.

Doherty was instrumental in giving students at Riverwood something to buzz about: three beehives that are now a part of the school’s outdoor classroom and garden.

Doherty also paired with Livable Buckhead and the Buckhead Rotary Club in recent months to install a pollinator garden and honeybee hives at the park Mountain Way Common. One of the highlights: a tower where busy bees can be viewed up close and from behind glass.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Doherty expects to retire from public education in about three years and devote more time to Doc’s Healing Hives.

“I love it and look forward to it being my full-time job,” he said.

Doherty has two other big retirement objectives: to teach veterans to grow their own food and to open a soup kitchen to feed the hungry.

“Staying busy is part of my therapy,” he said.


Bees are in Buckhead

Livable Buckhead, Buckhead Rotary Club, and Doc’s Healing Hives are partnering to showcase the importance of bees to the ecosystem.

In the past several months, the groups have added beehives and a pollinator garden to the grounds of Mountain Way Commons, a park off Atlanta’s Wieuca Road.

“Rotary is big on veterans, and I thought: ‘Wow, what a perfect partnership,’” said Denise Starling, executive director of Livable Buckhead and a member of the Buckhead Rotary. “It’s really amazing.”

Doc’s Healing Hives supplied three hives for the project, including one demonstration hive, where thousands of busy bees can be viewed from behind glass.

“A lot of people are a little hesitant at first,” Starling said. “But when [Doherty] starts telling you about the bees, people get closer, then a little closer, and, before you know it, they are right up on the hives.”

People are welcome to check out the bee display anytime. Events also are being planned to further showcase the bee display, Starling said.



What inspires Tim Doherty?

“When I was home on leave my sister has a small homestead farm and invited me to inspect her hives with her. Once we opened a hive up, I was hooked and have loved it ever since. If I am having a bad day, all I have to do is open up a beehive and those bad feelings get lost in the bees.”

What inspired you to create Doc’s Healing Hives?

“I simply wanted to help other veterans who may have been struggling as I was.”

What does beekeeping do for you?

”It resets me. Every time I open up a hive it simply focuses me and brings me complete happiness.

What can readers do who would like to help you help other veterans?

“They are welcome to follow me on Instagram and Facebook at Doc’s Healing Hives, purchase Doc’s Healing Hives Honey at the Sandy Springs Farmer’s Market, donate time or money to help with build the learning center and future Doc’s Healing Hives Beekeeping courses. Donations can be made through Doc’s Healing Hives go fund me page or simply mailing a check to 349 Veterans Drive, Morganton, Ga. 30560. Every dollar donated goes to helping other veterans heal.”