29 May 2014
From working voluntarily a few hours a week at Tahi Estate, to being employed full time as Honey Operations Manager for their honey business, is sweet success for Knox Henderson. Knox – “A lot has happened in just three years since finishing my Horticulture level 4 at NorthTec.”
It was his horticulture course that introduced Knox to Tahi Estate at Pataua North. “One of our classes had a field trip there and I was blown away by what they were doing.”
Tahi Estate is well known now as a coastal property dedicated to the conservation and preservation of ecosystems. It also offers eco-retreat accommodation and has an expanding manuka honey production enterprise. Dr John Craig and Dr Anne Stewart, along with their daughter Suzan, bought over 740 acres of run-down farmland and planted thousands of trees, creating a bush and wetland haven. John was the co-designer of Tiritiri Island so has extensive experience and accolades for his environmental work, and Anne has years of experience in conservation and horticulture. It was the philosophy behind the Tahi project and the scope of it that fascinated Knox.
“Our course required that we get practical work experience to underpin our class theory, so I started working there on Mondays - our course day off. I worked at whatever was happening - planting trees, helping in the native tree nursery, general farm work or maintenance. At the time, John and Anne were in the process of building the honey house and were keen to expand honey production at Tahi Estate.”
Knox continued to work on the property during holidays and, when his NorthTec course finished, he started applying for jobs. “I wasn’t getting anywhere, but at that same time the Tahi Estate honey facility opened and I helped there processing honey for 2-3 weeks. After that they kept finding me work on the farm for a full working week and I kept turning up. Eventually they created a role for me in the honey facility, and this year I have taken on the position of Honey Operations Manager for Tahi honey. 99% of my time is now at the honey house jarring the best quality honey possible.”
Honey production is now a major activity on Tahi Estate. “When I got there they had 400-500 hives. Within a year that grew to 1000 hives and we now have 3000 hives – some here and others spread between Kaiwaka and Kaikohe. Our target is manuka so we lease sites, place hives there and then don’t move them. Because we are into conservation, we leave the bees plenty of winter honey so we don’t have to feed them sugar.”
Knox knew very little about the honey industry before working at Tahi Estate. “This has been huge learning curve for me. We learned about bees in the permaculture part of our horticulture course, but now I know more about the field side of honey production so can give more confident educated answers to people’s questions. I still have heaps to learn especially on the honey processing side.”
Helping Knox in the honey house at Tahi Estate are two admin staff, another full time helper, and two casual workers. John oversees the whole operation. There is also a café and a shop that are open seasonally with their own staff, and there are three eco-accommodation houses for holiday hire on the property.
Knox lives on the property and says he feels lucky and very happy to be at Tahi Estate. “I love that the job allows me to use my brain. I come from hospitality and retail where the skills and info are more quickly learnt. Here there is usually a challenge daily. We’re dealing with expensive equipment that doesn’t always work and we’re a long way out from Whangarei, so we need to be resourceful and organised.”
Knox – “NorthTec was a great training ground. I was impressed with the quality of the tutors. I was apprehensive at first but I learned a lot more than I expected and gained a lot from the level 4 course. I was asked whether I was interested to go on to the diploma, but at this stage my work commitment here is my priority. This place is in an expansion phase and my job is to keep taking quality honey from the frames and putting it in jars. I have a lot to offer here and this place has a lot to offer me - so I’d like to stay a while.”