Hunt & Gather Bee Co. are a small family beekeeping business based in the Waikato. Hannah and Rory, who juggle three kids and thousands of bees have been making waves with their sustainable practices and resulting beautiful honey.
We are proud to be stocking their delicious honeycomb, so if you want a sweet taste of the Waikato click here
Or read more about Hunt & Gather Bee Co below with an article printed by Stuff when they appeared on Country Calendar.
It was “just a couple of weeks” after Hannah and Rory O’Brien of Hunt and Gather Bee Co. had bought their first hive that Hannah discovered she was allergic to bees.
“I hadn’t been stung since I was a kid,” she says.
“So yeah, it was a bit of a surprise. A bit of a curve ball.”
But O’Brien can see the humour in being a beekeeper allergic to bees – especially now that it transpires her allergy manifests only during pregnancy. “It makes a good story,” she laughs.
The couple were contract milking when they decided to try their hand at something different. “We really liked dairy farming,” says O’Brien, “but we just kind of decided that long-term, the pathway into farm ownership was probably going to be a bit out of our reach.”
And after seven years in the milkshed they had, she says, “Just kind of done enough of it.”
Despite making such a big career change into beekeeping, O’Brien says they weren’t fazed about taking a leap of faith. “It was kind of exciting more than anything, I think. We were still pretty young. At 25 you’ve got a lot of career ahead of you. I was teaching so I always had my teaching to fall back on.”
The O’Briens run Hunt and Gather Bee Co. out of Raglan and have hives dotted around the Waikato region.
Along with the various honeys they sell on their website, they also sell beeswax wraps – an alternative to plastic wraps – that are gaining in popularity.
“We started that really early on when we just needed to supplement the income for the business, when we weren’t making much honey. And then, of course, we could use the wax from our bees to make them. They’re just really popular,” says O’Brien, who is currently expecting the couple’s third child. Now that I’m about to have another baby we’ve hired someone to help us out with them because we’re just kind of always struggling to keep up.”
Sustainability runs through every aspect of the business – from beekeeping to packaging.
“We are what’s classed as non-migratory beekeepers which means that we don’t move our hives around basically,” says O’Brien.
She says migratory beekeepers can rack up a huge number of kilometres shifting hives and chasing ‘honey flows’ – places where bees have easy access to abundant sources of nectar.
“We don’t do that,” says O’Brien. “We just place our hives in their spots and we leave them there. So we are travelling to them but we’re not travelling anywhere near as much as other beekeepers. Then we’re offsetting that with planting. We are doing a few regeneration projects with native plantings that bees can feed on.”
Even the living quarters of their bees is carefully considered. “Inside our hives is all wood and wax whereas most people these days are just buying plastic frames and everything for inside their hives,” she says.
She goes on to explain that while it’s more expensive and “hugely labour intensive” to work in this way, the benefits for the bees and the environment far outweigh costs. “It is better for the bees. They much prefer building on wood and wax than plastic,” she says. “At the end of its lifespan it’s half compostable, half recyclable with the wood and wax. The plastic frames aren’t even recyclable so they’re just landfill.
“Our packaging is all glass and paper labels – as sustainable as we can get it. And we take back our jars and we can refill them as well.”
The O’Briens produce a range of honeys including kanuka, which is a close relation to manuka. “Kanuka has some of the chemical markers of manuka but not all of them,” she says. “So they are similar but kanuka has some properties of its own that manuka doesn’t have.”
O’Brien says while the two honeys share some commonalities, kanuka has a “really different flavour profile” to its far more famous cousin.
“They’re finding different uses for it. They’re using it for a lot of skin conditions, like cold sores.” She says the merits of kanuka are still being researched but much like Hunt And Gather Bee Co. there’s a real buzz. “I think,” she predicts, “kanuka’s going to be the next big, big honey.”