Tairua woman Hannah O'Brien has taken out the Emerging Business Category in the NZI Rural Women New Zealand Business Awards for her Hunt and Gather Bee Co by putting the wellbeing of her family — including her bees — at the heart of business.

The NZI Rural Women New Zealand Business Awards are an opportunity to showcase the innovation and entrepreneurial excellence of women who own small rural businesses while also supporting their local communities.

"These awards recognise the sheer hard work, dedication and entrepreneurship that goes into developing rural enterprises," says premier partner NZI rural manager Jon Watson.
Hannah grew up in Tairua and was schooled at Tairua School and Thames High, where her husband Rory O'Brien was also educated.

The couple moved to Raglan so Rory could take on a new beekeeping job in 2015 but regularly visit Tairua to stay with her brother Sean and dad Lance Peggs, Tairua's pharmacist.

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Hannah O'Brien has taken out the Emerging Business Category in the NZI Rural Women New Zealand Business Awards.
Hannah O'Brien has taken out the Emerging Business Category in the NZI Rural Women New Zealand Business Awards.

The couple's 5-year-old son Kieran has his own bee suit and Hannah says her daughter Alice, 2, knows that if you poke a bee's bum it stings.

Hannah is herself allergic to bees — but that hasn't prevented her from treating the hundreds of bees in their hives with the care you would expect if you were part of the family. It is the kind of ethos that led to her award.

"It comes down to if we don't have a healthy environment and happy bees then we don't have a business," she says.

"One of the things about having your own business is that you can build it around your own ethics.

"Sustainability is important to us, so we pack everything in glass jars with paper labels and buy them back from customers and refill them, and we set traps for rats, as hives can be a magnet to rats which nest under them.

"We sell on the domestic market and are trying to keep it affordable so that locals are able to buy it. We also try to build the business around the family so we can still have time with the kids and involve them if we can."

Another focus is treating the bees well, which means not moving them around to different locations, monitoring them closely for disease and ensuring they have enough honey to feed themselves through winter and don't get overcrowded with too many hives.

Hannah says keeping them in one location means they must feed on seasonally flowering plants which provides different types of honey.

"We do manuka honey and it's an amazing product but it has become the focus of the industry in many ways and there are so many great attributes and properties from the different types of honey you get from different flowers. It's also easier on the bees not to move the hives."

Hunt and Gather honey can be bought at Tairua Pharmacy, the Green Grocers and Bite Deli in Thames and Hannah is interested in Whangamata and Whitianga shops that would like to stock it.

She says the competition was a huge event and is encouraging any other rural women business owners to consider entering for the huge benefits that have come from her participation.