I’m positively buzzed. I was sitting at my desk some months ago when – DING! – “you’ve got mail.” Sheridan Gundry had sent an email to The Gisborne Herald about a swarm of bees in her backyard. If you have never seen one they are dangerous-looking things. Menacing and wandering. A pretender to the throne has hatched in the hive and there can only be one queen in the hexagonal home.
I picked up the phone and gave Sheridan a buzz. It turns out she was the communications manager in her house. It was her partner Mike who was the bee man. We got chatting about the funny honey-making insects and that was that. As a perennial YES man I put down the phone having agreed to take up the sweet task of beekeeping.
The best part of beekeeping is the minimal amount of anything. The bees do the work. Your job, more or less, is to not let them die. Kind of like children or plants.
The hardest part of beekeeping is the minimal amount of anything. You have to remember you helped bring them into this world and not forget they exist.
But the hobby ain’t cheap. The gear costs a fair few hundred. Thankfully our species is pretty flaky.
“Oh beekeeping sounds cool!
Let’s give that a go babe,
I think we could really make a go at this!”
People love experimenting and trying things out. You probably know three or four people who have given up on the craft already. Go borrow all their gear until they forget they ever gave it to you.
As it was, my sister had bought Practical Beekeeping before she gave up on the honey game and handed that over. Another friend lent us all the other gear we needed.
But it was Mike who was the real MVP. Someone who has very much not given up on the sweet life. Mike runs beekeeping workshops at the Environment Centre and has hives all over the show. It was he that got the ball rolling finding a swarm of bees out in the wild, captured it and brought the usurper queen and her followers to our kingdom.
What a kind man.
Now my brother and I are beekeepers. Jethro bought the boxes and paint so my total outgoings so far is 26 dollars to account for the six-pack of beers that must accompany us to the hives.
For me, joy in life comes from toddling into a new world for a while and having a look around, talking to the people inside their spacetime and hanging about in their secret worlds. The honey world is one worth dipping your toes in for a little nectar.
Bee people are just like us, except maybe a little sweeter. They walk and talk about bees, a gentle hum in conversation about the weather, flowers and sky. It’s a relaxed hobby, like panning for gold.
And like gold, there are those who enjoy the business, and there are those with the Fever.
The crazy eye.
The big M.
Manuka is where money is at and where the bad blood starts. Don’t look at them, just keep walking. If you do get stuck talking to one, DO NOT ask them where their hives are in case they take you as a thief for their gold.
Anyway. That’s all I know. Jethro and Mike have done most of the beekeeping. I’m more of a moral support worker. Conceptual and thoughtful.
Start asking around. Call up your flakiest friends with too much spare coin and recommend they give beekeeping a go today.
Start asking around. Call up your flakiest friends with too much spare coin and recommend they give beekeeping a go today.
So you made it out of lockdown. You learnt a language. Mastered the downward dog and achieved a symbiotic relationship with your garden. Well done. Your only regret – You never could quite nail that sourdough. No rise, no tight crumb, or is it a loose crumb… Whatever. All you managed was to bake a sticky slop into what you referred to as a ‘Middle Eastern flatbread.’ I get it.
Sourdough is proper tricky if you don’t have a pair of hands and eyes which have been through the process of a good bake. The tactile feel for great dough is built upon many dud loaves half-baked.
I’ve spent the last four months digging down the floury rabbit hole, kneading the kinks and tricks out of the internet and piles of flour so you don’t have to – that perfect loaf can still be yours.
Even if you’re not going to revive that old starter, after reading this you’ll know where you went wrong, and pray to God we don’t go back into lockdown – hope to your lucky quarantine stars you find this information useless.
Rule number one: Take your time. Sourdough is like friendship. You needn’t do a lot, but be present when they need you. The fermentation process takes approximately four hours once you add your starter to the flour and water in warm weather. Read that again. In warm weather. Apologies to remind you again, but in this country, we are both free of Covid-19 and insulated houses. Even in a so-called ‘warm’ house, the windows are thin and the floors breathe.
Chances are your dough will need a couple of extra hours to bring it to life. Ways around this: Leave your mixture under the heat pump or by the fire. I occasionally preheat the oven for a couple of minutes making a simple ‘proving box.’ Make sure no one turns the oven on while it’s in there.
Rule number two: Your starter needs peak life. You’ll see some recipes call for an extra step. Making a ‘levain’ or a ‘sponge.’ Basically, all they’re asking you to do is feed your starter right before you make your bread. This means that by the time you come around to mixing, your sourdough starter is full of life, ready to give your loaf the energy to seize the day and start eating away at all the goodness in your flour.
Rule number three: Keep at it. Bread is love and bread is life. I never got into football because I was under the impression I was too old (seventeen), never learnt a language because I was beyond youth (twenty-three). Do you know Quincy Jones? Producer of the Beatles, Michael Jackson and every chart-topper you’ve heard. He’s pushing late eighties and he has started to learn Mandarin. Making a loaf is a journey and you never need get off the boat. If you keep your starter in the fridge you only need to feed it once a week… And if you’re super-duper lacking time, you can even freeze it! Laziness rules in the sourdough world.
Love is warm and so is bread. The breaking of bread is a religious experience. There is life inside of food, made with your two hands, it gives a certain kind of pleasure unknown to the capitalist state of mind. By baking, it is possible to consume without being consumerist.
Baking bread helps me rise; the act has become a cathartic exercise. Instead of being an unachieving nobody that’s going nowhere slow. With a little morning effort mixed with a dash of vague and dotty attention to wheat and water, my day fills the house with the crusty and toasted aroma of life. The pleasure of passing a loaf warm bread to a friend is an act of self-love shared. But I don’t do it for them. After I’ve dropped theirs off, I head home and cut myself a thick slice of bread, lather it up and down in butter and sit content.
It’s no secret our city centre needs some tender tough-love and care – Buildings hang about like vacant-eyed drop kicks making trouble. Last week I sat down with Mayor Rehette Stoltz to hear from a person with power why this place is feeling like a ghost town. And reassuringly, in a comforting sort of way, she shared her fears of empty shop fronts looking like ‘someone who’s lost some teeth.’ And, as you would expect, she said the council has an answer.
But first, let me set the record straight – There’s a lot I have in common with the past American President George Bush Snr and there is a lot I do not. We both gained a Bachelor of Arts degree and flirted with the newspaper industry. However, I can tell you I am not a Republican, nor was I a member of the Yale Cheerleading Squad. But nine words of his in 1989 put me and Bush in the same proverbial box:
“Buildings should not stand empty while people lack shelter.”
Yes, our homeless are housed for this moment of pandemic, but will it last? We have empty buildings and a chronic need for housing. We have a city that rattles when the wind blows and our unfortunates once slept on the streets after they were evicted from long-empty buildings. Is that what we consider fair?
And the kick that hurt came from behind, after I fell on an article dated 2015 in The Gisborne Herald ‘Mayor Foon calls for low-cost apartments for Gisborne.’ The title had me tickled, was inner-city development on the way? I picked up the phone and got a hold of ex-mayor Meng Foon, now New Zealand’s Race Relations Commissioner.
“Five years ago I said the CBD was declining. I suggested that we should make it as easy as possible to have residential buildings in the city and to turn some of the different commercial buildings into apartments to create vibrancy. I thought it was a good idea.”
However, my phone call with the commissioner and Foon’s pitch both had equally patchy reception. “There were snide remarks,” Foon recalled, they said, “‘our city will turn into a slum’ – which is not true, many cities around the world have inner-city residential properties and they’re vibrant places.”
And now, Foon is gone. Is this council any different? Having had a moment in the leading role, I spoke to Mayor Rehette Stoltz to hear what she wanted for the heart of the city. “Empty buildings are not unique to Gisborne, the way we shop and the way we do business has changed significantly over the last 20 years,” Stoltz said over a coffee at the Tairāwhiti Museum.
“A lot of our CBD buildings are Historic Places that cost an arm and a leg to do it up and earthquake strengthen, I know millions of dollars have been spent in the CBD, and if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford to do that – fabulous. But unfortunately not everyone is in that position to quickly whip out a few million bucks to earthquake strengthen – and that’s why some of our buildings are standing empty.”
And here a comment about the council from my conversation with Foon comes to mind. “Council is a philosopher, it’s not in the ‘doing’. Its role is creating the environment and the rules that enable people to do things as easy as possible,” Foon said.
And in a similar, yet more practical sort of vein Stoltz seemed to agree. Because Council is not in the business of getting involved in our business – it does that enough. Stoltz repeatedly said, “We do not want to interfere in private business, we want to enable it.” So if the council will not earthquake strengthen our buildings, who will? Trust Tairāwhiti perhaps?
Meekly, I pushed forward asking about my inner-city dreams of development. Is the council going to develop our empty downtown? “Yes,” Stoltz said, “there is definitely a push for us to start looking at what we can do with those spaces. “Our new spatial plan is an integral part of us growing and changing the whole feel of the CBD, there’s a whole chapter on the development of the CBD.”
But Stoltz argues the council needs to create downtown energy to attract inner-city life before putting up apartments willy-nilly.
“You can’t just say ‘let’s make a few apartments.’ You need to make people want to live there, you need to make spaces that they can hang out in, have their lunch in the sun and cycleways to connect it up. So one of the discussions we have had going forward is that we might have to look at compacting the city.”
But the thing that perked up my ears, nose and eyes was Stoltz suggested a town square may be on the cards. A place for a few benches, a patch of grass for people to congregate and catch up with a coffee. May I suggest paving over Peel Street?
And I think she is right, ‘Build it and they will come.’ The boardwalk along Waikanae beach is constantly peppered with people every hour of the day. You need delicious and desirable ingredients for punters to make the move and live the city centre life.
But as Stoltz said, our habits have changed and the city centre is no longer the shopping destination it once was. The city needs to provide for the twenty-first century shopper. “A lot of our planning is archaic and needs to be addressed, and it’s a fair comment that we need to tidy up our district planning requirements around developments not only in the CBD, because it’s not always fit for purpose.” She says our district plan may not give us the best outcomes. “Our zoning is not prohibitive as such, but it’s not encouraging it either.”
Stoltz gave the example of a laboratory requesting consent just outside of Gisborne which was required to have seven parking spaces under the current district Council plans when the only visitors they had was a courier driver.
She says the council staff do not have the discretion just to say ‘Oh that is silly, let’s just go ahead,’ because they are required to follow the plans. “So then we tie people up with the red tape, because then they need to get a planner involved, ring the mayor’s office, and in the end, they can do it. But if our plans were permissive and our plans were modern – our plans would make sense.”
“I believe the most important thing we as a Council can do is to get our plans modernised and address the needs that have evolved over the past 20 years.”
“But in the past five or six years, so much already in the town has happened that lifted the overall feeling, like the new council building, the new library, the new theatre, new cycleways, so even though it’s not targeted directly at the CBD, we shouldn’t forget about the things that connect at all up.”
And as much as locals love to moan, the revitalization is visible. The beach boardwalk, cycleway to Wainui, Fox Street mountain bike tracks, the port beautification and a new Gladstone Road bridge. There is change and we can follow the right track if we choose it. There’s no reason we cannot be like Porto, Barcelona and the seaside cities along the Mediterranian that tout cosy apartments dressed with balconies perfect for peering down at life below. Cities where you can stumble to a drinking hole one minute and fall in the door of a dinky restaurant outside your apartment the next.
The same is possible here. We have the port, the cityscape, sunshine and a lively bunch of locals. Combined, Trust Tairāwhiti , Gisborne Holdings Limited and the council have over a billion dollars in assets – It may be time they put some of that to downtown use, and maybe, we can buy this city a new set of teeth.
The budding Gisborne hemp industry is truly starting to bloom. With Hikurangi Enterprises looking to open their CBD extraction facility in the coming months, the East Coast may become the ‘Cannabis Coast’ as entrepreneurs see potential in the crop.
Tairāwhiti Hemp Company, a start-up company based in Gisborne run by a young couple Simon White and Olivia Steven, produces oils and seeds for consumption (without any THC – the psychoactive compound). The aim for the young couple is to create truly New Zealand products by infusing their oils with local medicinal flora like kawakawa and horopito. In development, they have a kawakawa and lemon hemp oil, and a horopito and garlic hemp oil, which they say is quite nutty with a spicy little kick.
Cannabis is an old crop. George Washington, the first President of the United States, is the most well-known hemp farmer. However, it is quite likely Washington wasn’t getting stoned in his weekends. Hemp is a strain which is good for producing food and fibrous material for making goods like paper and clothes (the first copy of the US Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper). However, after the first world war, for many reasons, all forms of cannabis were declared illegal.
We sat down with Simon White of Tairāwhiti Hemp Company, to find out more about what it’s like to get in on the ‘green rush’ with a product once deemed dangerous.
‘The negative views around marijuana have dissipated fast, we’ve noticed that people are less dubious and understand that it’s not going to get you high… now people just joke about it being weed, it’s a bit of a running joke you know – ‘the good stuff is coming soon!’’ White jokes, ‘where in the past those weren’t the kinds of conversations we were having with the public – perceptions have changed dramatically.’
Like most start-ups, the business getting to where it is, has been a journey. It all started with a hemp-wool insulation business developed during Tairāwhiti Start-up Weekend. ‘We pitched the idea and got some local funding to help start it up, spoke to Intellectual Property lawyers, got Callaghan Innovation onboard and had scientists at Lincoln University start on creating a test product. However, I’d heard of a guy down in Nelson who had tried hemp insulation in the past but for whatever reason had failed. Once I finally got his contact details and gave him a call, his advice was ‘don’t go there man, nope, don’t start’’.
According to White, the insulation was so good that a large insulation company sued the man to kill the competition. ‘They sued him once, and he won, then they sued him again, and then the fourth time they took him to court – a Court of Appeal in like Cambridge or London or something … he didn’t show up [because of the distance] so that meant he defaulted – he ended up losing near a million dollars’.
While that is enough to scare anyone off, there was also an issue of high energy costs due to extensive water and power use which didn’t fit with White’s broader plan. ‘So, I told the lawyers, Callaghan Innovation and Lincoln University that it wasn’t going forward and thankfully they didn’t charge me, then I went back to the local funding agency and said ‘sorry I’m not gonna be able to go through with the project – here’s your money back’’. White chuckles, ‘They said no one had ever returned their money before. After that, I went to Thailand for six weeks to recharge, and when I got back I realised that hemp food was the one’.
In the short term, the group is looking to establish a good customer base, selling high-quality products that are good for the community. In the long-term, the goal is to infuse their hemp food products with CBD (the medicinal compound found in cannabis) which is touted as having various benefits and sell it to world markets. ‘Everyone can go hemp these days’, says White, ‘for us, it’s about being uniquely New Zealand, [what we can do] is infuse our product with these New Zealand natives and have a real point of difference.’
If you want to know more, you can head to their website at www.tairawhitihempco.nz or see them and taste their good stuff (it’s already here!) down at the Gisborne Farmers’ Market every Saturday.