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Rory and Hannah O'Brien: With Hard Work, Luck and Determination

The key qualities behind every successful business can present a mixture of hard work, luck and determination. Hunt and Gather Bee Co. is a great example of this. Leaving their jobs in dairy farming and teaching, Rory and Hannah O’Brien sold their house to invest all of their money into 16 beehives and a ute. Over the next few years, they worked tirelessly to get their business off the ground. At the time, they were parents of two young children and collectively worked up to five different jobs at a time. Today, they provide award-winning raw New Zealand honey that is ethically sourced, good for people and the environment.

Just south of Raglan on the west coast of the Waikato, you will find a small lifestyle block that is home to Rory, Hannah and their three children; Kieran, 8, Alice, 5, and Mickey, 1. Rory was a dairy farmer who transitioned to commercial beekeeping before they decided to start their own business. Hannah previously worked as a primary and early childhood teacher. They have now been running Hunt and Gather Bee Co. for five years.

Rory, Hannah and two other team members have a great support network of family, mentors and casual staff. Rory has just hired a new apprentice, Denzel, and Emma helps Hannah run the sales, marketing and admin side of the business.

Hunt and Gather Bee Co. have beehives throughout the Waikato region and their specialty is Kanuka honey. Being a small operation, the team has a high standard of bee welfare and make sure that they are always giving the best care possible.

“We have strong policies in relation to the ethical treatment of our bees. For example, we only use wooden hive-ware throughout our beekeeping operation, as opposed to plastic hive-ware which is far cheaper and less time-consuming to assemble. We do this because wood is a renewable resource and is fully compostable at its end of life,” Rory said.

“It’s also much kinder for the bees to work on and there is no possibility of plastic contamination in our honey. We also pack our honey in glass jars with paper labels to make sure it’s presented in the best possible condition to our customers.”

The team love where beekeeping takes them as you’re constantly surrounded by nature. Their beehives are usually in amongst picturesque landscapes and places around the Waikato that are far less travelled. “Bees are fascinating creatures to work with and understand, and at the end of the day we get to produce an amazing, natural product that’s really good for people in a way that has a minimal and mostly beneficial impact on the environment,” Rory said.

“We make sure that our bees have really good access to their own honey all year round. When we do supplement feed with sugar syrup, we always make sure to add AgriSea Bee Nutrition seaweed tonic to our syrup to replace the amino acids and trace elements that aren’t present in sugar.”

Rory, Hannah and the team host a series of beekeeping experiences for the public every summer. In this series, they take you through a three-hour learning experience about beekeeping and the life of a hive, where you get to wear bee suits and all. Along with beekeeping experiences, Hunt and Gather Bee Co. also make and sell organic cotton beeswax food wraps, gift packs and honeycomb.

The core component of their products and overall lifestyle is based on a sustainable and ethical outlook which they view as essential. They started their business solely based on this reason and doing something that they were proud of meant that they could sleep more easily at night. Hannah said that sometimes it’s not always the best financial choice but as a company, they are willing to make sacrifices to maintain a sustainable approach in everything that they do.

As a family they love the outdoors, getting involved in activities such as tramping, camping, fishing and adventuring. Rory and Hannah take their children out so that they can enjoy nature and learn more about how they can support it. “We want them to enjoy being outdoors and do something that they’re passionate about, while always being kind. Life is short and you spend a lot of it working, so it’s cool to do something that you feel good about and that gives back to our environment in a positive way,” Hannah said.

Rory and Hannah bought a small lifestyle block just 20 minutes outside of the Raglan township. They moved there a year after starting their business to build a house to live in, and a shed that they could run their business from. The house was taking longer than expected to build due to having a new business and being parents, so Rory, Hannah and their two kids lived and worked out of the shed for the first two years.

“It was very cosy, just 36 square metres and very basic, but we really enjoyed that time together as a family and it made us pretty resilient. These days, the whole shed is our workshop for the beekeeping operation and until recently it was our honey warehouse too. This spring, we are planning on putting a honey extraction plant in the shed too. The shed has been a real cornerstone of our business, and its uses have evolved with the business,” Hannah said.

The shed that they chose was from Goldpine and they found the quality of it hard-wearing, holding up well to the elements on the west coast. “We chose Goldpine because of the sustainable nature of their products. We liked that we could have a shed built from New Zealand pine and that they supported local contractors to do the work. Their designs were easy to work with and they were super adaptable to our needs.”

Hunt and Gather Bee Co. have become a huge success with their honey and they acknowledge their team, their family and customers who supported them from the very beginning. Through farmers markets and other events, they have had plentiful opportunities to really connect with their customers. Rory and Hannah have also made some wonderful friendships through their business and have had mentors help to support and shape their ongoing journey.

Their goals for the future are to export their honey overseas as well as using their business as a means to give back to the community; through tree planting initiatives, gaining carbon neutral certification and pest control contributions.

For more information about Hunt and Gather Bee Co., their products and beekeeping experiences, head to <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"></a> or @huntandgatherbeeco on <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Facebook</a> and <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Instagram</a>.