In November of each year the first few Monarch butterflies begin to appear on the south facing branches of the tall Pine, Oak and Oyamel trees at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserves in Michoacán in Mexico. Before long, these same trees will be coated orange in Butterflies that have just completed the longest known insect migration of over 2,800 miles up the Pacific coast of the United States and into Canada. This migration requires 4 generations to complete, each generation knowing intrinsically how and where to go in order to reach their destination. We think of our bees as following a similar pattern, with each generation of bees graduating from one role to the next as they age in the hive, only to be replaced by a subsequent generation also working towards the common goal of preparing for the honey flow and ensuring the hive's survival for another season. Within this cycle, there are generations of bees that will toil for the good of the hive without ever realizing the fruits of their labor. Yet they are driven to continue to work for the good of the hive. They have a just cause, they are part of an infinite game.
As the fifth generation of my family on the land, the concept of the infinite game has a strong resonance. Each generation has spent enormous amounts of time, effort and care to raise animals on this land in order to provide a living and lifestyle for their family, only to hand over the reins to the following generation. Is there a finish line that each generation is trying to reach first? Is there some sort of ultimate prize that can be attained at the end of a lifetime working on the hills? Or is there simply a ‘Just Cause’ that is loosely defined by each generation that governs how we set about to treat the land and the animals, families and community that interact with it?
As society and the world around us changes, so too does each generation's objective of how to work with the land. My grandfather received government funding to crush and burn hundreds of hectares of Manuka forest only for my generation to begin retiring this same land back into Manuka. Yet he also covenanted 300 hectares of native bush into a QEII trust reserve. A reserve that could never be touched again for forestry or farming purposes. This reserve now acts as the focal point of the farm. The jewel in the crown and a place where we can all go to center ourselves and remind ourselves of what makes our piece of land so special and worth toiling to keep improving for each generation.
What has always and will always remain a constant from one generation to the next is the accountability, empathy and honesty in our work. The checks and balances in farming is similar to sport. If you cut corners in your training or preparation you tend to get found out when it comes to the event. The same can be said for the farm and we are reminded of this when we spend an afternoon scrambling through the bush trying to retrieve some lost stock just because we were too lazy to fix the hole in the fence. The care and empathy that my Mother gives to the animals is inspiring and a result of a working life spent seeing the joy that comes from having healthy stock thriving on the land and the pain that you experience seeing them suffer if you get it wrong. And it can be a fine line.
In businesses, many will have experienced a strange new reality while being forced to work from home during the Covid-19 lockdown. All of a sudden, there was a need for employers to find ways to direct work without direct oversight and a realization from employees that they had to be personally accountable for their own productivity and effort. Companies that had a just cause and employees working towards an infinite game would have found little change. Others, who had developed a culture where it was easy to hide behind bureaucracy, confused roles and responsibilities to avoid doing necessary but frustrating roles or allowed colleagues to flounder so they looked good in comparison; well these organisations probably didn’t notice much change either.
Bee and Flow and the role of Bees and Manuka is the latest iteration of the infinite game that our family is playing on this land. By removing livestock and allowing Manuka to revert back in some of the steep areas of the farm we are preserving the soil and enhancing the biodiversity that enriches our surroundings. Incorporating Bees and Agroforestry into our farming system promotes the growth of clovers in our grass farming system which allows us to better mimic the natural role that ruminant animals play in nature while capturing the unique and incredible value of Manuka Honey.
And what’s our Ultimate goal? Well that’s a bit hard to define at the moment but so long as our bees, sheep and cattle are looking happy and healthy and the generations that follow us can look back and think that the ‘Old fellas’ did a pretty good job. Well that might just be enough.