Can you bee-lieve where your food comes from? A nationwide Open Farms event on Sunday, March 21, is giving you the opportunity to reconnect with the environment and your food through an authentic farming experience.
More than 40 farms across the country, covering all food and fibre sectors, including sheep, beef, dairy, horticulture and apiculture will open their gates, including four Waikato Farms.
One of the places to visit on Open Farms day is the Hunt and Gather Bee Co farm near Raglan.
Run by Hannah and Rory O'Brien, both 33, Hunt and Gather Bee Co produces Kanuka, Manuka, Rewarewa, West Coast Blend and Bush Blend honey, produced from hives at various sites in the Waikato.
Hannah says they are taking care of a few hundred hives in total. Most of them, 20 to 30 at a time, are placed on farms and native bushland all around the region. "In summer during honey season, each hive is home to roughly 60,000 bees. In winter, the number of bees drops to around 10,000 per hive."
Hannah and Rory are high school sweethearts after meeting at Thames High School and have now been together for 15 years. After finishing her education, Hannah was teaching near Te Aroha and Rory was dairy farming around the Waikato and Coromandel.
Having a farming background, Rory wanted to pursue a career in agriculture. Hannah says: "But we wanted something a bit different and bees fit with our lifestyle in terms of sustainability and low impact on the environment."
As Hannah and Rory never had an OE after school, they decided to explore their own backyard moving down to the South Island, Cromwell, and falling in love with beekeeping.
"Bees are fascinating animals, they are such gentle and efficient creatures. There are thousands of them living together and every single one has their role. The way their society works is marvellous," says Rory.
After they had their first child, Kieran, and with another on the way, Hannah and Rory wanted to be closer to home and family. "So in 2015, we moved back to the Waikato where I was working for another beekeeper," says Rory.
The O'Briens have now been in Raglan for four years. And Kieran, 7, has become a big brother to sister Alice, 4, and brother, Mickey, almost 1.
Rory, now his own boss, loves his job. "I like the outdoor lifestyle. Most of our hives are in forest and bushland, a bit off the beaten track. Being outside and doing good for the environment is totally my thing. And the best is: We don't work in the rain!"
Apart from taking care of his tiny six-legged workers, breeding new queen bees, building new hives, Rory is a beekeeping tutor as well.
Hannah had a rather uncomfortable experience early on in their bee farming career. "After we bought our first hive, I got stung by a bee and had a terrible allergic reaction. I had to give up working closely with the bees, so I deal with the honey side of things, like managing sales and distribution," she says.
Rory says bees would normally avoid stinging. "Bees have a hook at the end of their stinger. If a bee stings, it pulls out the bee's guts and it dies. That's why they only sting if they feel really threatened."
For the Open Farms day, Hannah and Rory have organised a honey tasting, a tour around the farm and a talk about the beekeeper's role for the environment, how honey is made and how it works on the farming side. You can even try on a bee suit!
"We want to show people where their food comes from and honey is an amazing product that is sustainable and good for people," says Hannah.
And how is honey made? "Bees produce honey as their winter food, but they make more than they need. In summer, bees collect nectar of flowers by swallowing it. Together with their stomach enzymes it creates honey that the bees spit or vomit out and store in the hive for the winter," Hannah says.
To visit Hunt and Gather Bee Co at Open Farms on March 21 register here
The involvement with bees on the day is heavily weather dependent, as they don't like to get their wings wet!
Tours will run from 10am to 11.30am, 1pm to 2.30pm, and 3pm to 4.30pm.
You can check out their website and see what else they have to offer here
Other Open Farms in the Waikato
Apart from the Hunt and Gather Bee Co, there are three other Waikato farms taking part in Open Farms on March 21.
To see the full line-up of farms participating in the Open Farms day click here
Nikau Coopworth is one of the elite stud flocks in New Zealand, breeding sheep stud rams since 1950. The two farms are leased in the Waikaretu Valley, totalling 330ha where a commercial ewe flock and mainly dairy/beef trading cattle complement the stud sheep operation.
For Open Farms, they have a working dog and a sheering demonstration, same as hands- on conversations about meat, wool, lambing and producing genetics.
To visit Nikau Coopworth on March 21, register here.
Earthbrooke Farm is a small sheep and beef farm on the bottom of Mt Pirongia between Kawhia and Te Awamutu, focusing on Romney x perendale sheep and a small flock of rare breed Gottland sheep.
They are sustainably managing their farm to produce meat and wools. As part of the open day programme, Earthbrooke Farms have organised shearing and spinning demonstrations, tractor rides, farm and bushwalks and of course visitors are allowed to meet the animals.
For Open Farms this year, Earthbrooke Farm is already sold out.
Close to Taupiri is Backyard Jem, a regenerative organically grown small-scale market garden, with a house cow, chickens and an established orchard that is being turned into a food forest.
Unfortunately, Backyard Jem is already sold out for this year's Open Farms.