February Sweet Talks - Delving into Ethical Honey Sourcing

February Sweet Talks - Delving into Ethical Honey Sourcing

Manukora Staff

5 minutes

Introduction  

Meet Dan Adams, an expert in the world of beekeeping with almost two decades of experience. Hailing from the Waikato region of New Zealand, Dan brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise as he leads the apiary division at Ātihau-Whanganui Incorporation (Ātihau).

Ātihau has one of New Zealand’s largest Māori landholdings, including remote Mānuka forests. Manukora's partnership with Ātihau began four years ago, grounded in shared values and a commitment to ethical beekeeping. This partnership is a key component of Manukora’s ability to supply the highest quality Mānuka honey to our customers around the world.

Dan's journey into beekeeping began in the mid-2000s, marked by a transition from journalism. Since then, he has immersed himself in the world of Mānuka honey, playing key roles in multiple beekeeping operations across New Zealand.

As the leader of apiary operations at Ātihau, Dan is dedicated to fostering sustainable practices and ethical standards within the industry. Under his leadership, the apiary business has reached many milestones, including record-breaking crop yields and a commitment to community empowerment and environmental stewardship.

Join us as we explore Dan's journey, his passion for beekeeping, and his vision for the future of sustainable, ethical beekeeping.

 


Can you share a bit about your journey from journalism to beekeeping, and what inspired you to make that transition?

Journalism and Beekeeping strikes people as an odd pair of vocations, but mid-2000s it made sense, at least to me. Journalism was in a state of endless change as the days of printing presses and sub-editors gave way to the internet age, 24-hour deadlines and increasingly under-resourced newsrooms. I’d been exposed to honeybees when writing about the arrival of varroa destructor mite and its impact on NZ beekeeping. Alongside the huge changes that the pest’s arrival wrought on the industry, was the developing science supporting our beautiful Mānuka honey. 

So I jumped, from an industry that increasingly seemed past its pomp, to an industry showing enormous promise. From a job in which I was struggling to see value any longer in what I was doing, to producing something wonderful, tangible and impactful. I could work with bees, produce an incredible natural product, and be immersed in nature? Tū meke.

 


Throughout your career, you’ve seen many of the most amazing Mānuka sites in NZ. What unique factors contribute to the distinctiveness of Mānuka honey from the Whanganui area? 

 


Ātihau is blessed with Mānuka forests which flower towards the very end of the Mānuka season – when typically, summer has settled into a drowsy pattern of hot, dry days, occasional downpours and lighter winds. This means our bees have the best weather in which to collect Mānuka nectar, creating a reliable source of some of the very best Mānuka honey anywhere. The confluence of late flower, producing very high-quality nectar, with optimal bee foraging weather is all part of nature’s marvellous dance.

 

  

Now more specifically, Ātihau is known for its vast landholdings, including remote Mānuka forests. How does this landscape contribute to the quality of Mānuka honey produced by Ātihau, and why is that important? 

On Ātihau whenua you very quickly find yourself immersed in te taiao (the natural world that contains and surrounds us — the land, water, climate and living beings. It refers to the interconnection of people and nature). From boundary to boundary, it crosses remote hill country, rolling hills and river flats, from river to river and from the mountains towards the sea. What this huge area of land provides more than anything for our bees is a refuge, a homeland on which the Mānuka forests provide our bees with an undiluted and uncontested source of very pure Mānuka nectar from which they then create incredible honey.

 


How does Ātihau prioritize sustainability and ethical practices in its beekeeping operations, and what steps are taken to ensure the well-being of the bees and the environment? 

Our beekeeping philosophy tries to centre the needs of the bees over convenience and profit. We don’t load our hives onto trucks and freight them all over the country chasing more than one Mānuka crop, as is standard commercial practice. 

We gently harvest our Mānuka honey once a year, we feed our hives back the honey they produce as much as we can, and we are planting diverse new ngāhere (natural environment of the bush) to sustain and support our hives with natural nutrition year-round. 

 



The alternative – feeding sugar syrup and artificial pollen – should be a last resort. The reasoning is simple – natural is better; look after the bees and they will look after us. 

Our partnership with Manukora is one of shared values, and it is hugely important to us that Mike and his team value and support our beekeeping kaupapa (strategy and cause).

 


How does Ātihau view the importance of beekeeping and Mānuka for both the incorporation and the community? How do these aspects contribute to the overall mission and values of Ātihau? 

Around half of our beekeepers are descendants of Ātihau, or uri. Their families have connections to this land going back centuries, and providing employment for local people is a fundamental part of what we do. 

Beekeeping relies on observing nature, understanding bees and hard work, and we are constantly working to strengthen our connections with and understanding of the environment and land so we can be better beekeepers. Our approach is a combination of science, beekeeping and traditional knowledge.


 

After working with Mānuka for so long, you must love it - what makes you a Manuka super user? 

I love a simple twist on an old favourite tonic for all manner of coughs, colds and lurgies: juice of 1 lemon, a big tablespoon of Mānuka honey and half a teaspoon of chilli flakes all go into a mug, add hot water, stir and stand for 5 minutes. Boom!

 


If you could choose one movie/documentary/podcast/book to recommend to our Manukora community, what would it be and why? 

‘Wild Bees’ by James K. Baxter

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/92727/wild-bees

I recently reconnected with a classmate from high school who has since become a published poet, author and historian. He sent me a passage from this poem and asked if our study of it in English class all those years ago may have subconsciously influenced my decision to become a beekeeper. 

I’m not sure about that, but it is a fabulous poem which among other things casts humans as the wantonly destructive extractors we often are. It stands in stark contrast to the way we try to interact with te taiao (the natural world) and our honeybees.

 


Summary


Dan’s journey exemplifies a passion for sustainable practices and ethical standards within the beekeeping industry. Ātihau's commitment to developing these standards and promoting a harmonious relationship between bees, the environment, and the community underscores the importance of responsible stewardship. 

Through Ātihau's partnership with Manukora, Dan continues to advocate for the preservation of natural resources and the promotion of quality Mānuka honey, making sure that we can provide our consumers with the best quality honey on the planet.

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