Women in Beekeeping

Hannah Pye

Coming from a family of beekeepers, photographer Hannah Pye has always been fascinated with the art and process of the honey hive, as well as the growing threat to bees from a changing climate. From record-breaking droughts to devastating bush fires, Australian beekeepers have been hit hard this past decade. Paradoxically, led by UNESCO and Angelina Jolie, there has been an increasing global focus on female beekeepers as a path to empowerment and sustainability. Originally made as a contribution to the Young Farmers Connect 2021 magazine, this project shines a light on five female-run apiaries and the challenges they have faced; as well as the strong link between motherhood and the hive.

I have always been quietly curious about beekeeping. My great uncle Percy, during the sugar rations of WWII, kept bees on the Yorkshire Moors to produce heather honey; otherwise known as British Manuka. My grandma, inspired by her uncle, began keeping bees as a teenager and continued right up to the end of her life, a practice that she passed on to her daughter - my aunty - who then passed it on to her daughter.

Now based on the East Coast of Australia, I wanted to learn more about the practice in this tropical corner of the world, as well as the role that women play in the field. As the project progressed, it became clear that beekeeping is a deeply personal practice; one of contemplation, curiosity and surrender. And often, as it was in my own family, a treasure be passed down through generations.

I wish to Acknowledge the Bundjalung Nation, on which this project took place, as well as the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia. I pay respect to their Elders past, present and emerging, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.

Hannah Pye

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Carolina Carnio

Miele D’oro


Carolina is the one-woman powerhouse behind Miele D’oro ('honey of gold’). Located in the beautiful Tweed Valley, Carolina manages 43 hives independently, harvesting award-winning honey and handcrafting botanical skincare from her home-studio.


Originally from Italy, Carolina is a trained medical scientist and a passionate apiarist. She discovered the art of beekeeping quite accidentally in 2012, following a difficult time in her life; the bees, for her, were more than a career choice, they were her resurrection from depression.


After moving to Australia in 2014 to pursue her career in medical science, Carolina also now identified as a beekeeper, and was soon offered the opportunity to take on 16 hives. Following this, she hung up her lab coat for good and threw herself into beekeeping full-time.


“Beekeeping is a fairly intense commitment. Your bees become your first thought in the morning and the last before you fall asleep.”


Carolina is committed to keeping her bees happy and healthy. During the drought and the fires she refrained from harvesting any honey to ensure their wellbeing. Instead, she created a range of artisanal soaps and beauty products using beeswax, essential oils and other natural ingredients to keep her small business (and her bees) thriving. This thoughtful mentality was taught to her by her late friend and mentor, Lez.


“I recommend finding an old beekeeping mentor to teach you everything that beekeeping involves: from carpentry to meteorology. I found mine 5 years ago: he taught me everything I know and prepared me to be autonomous and confident as a beekeeper. He left the day I became a citizen of this country and I treasure his teaching with honour.”

Carolina hopes to continue building her hives, as well as to facilitate workshops to teach children the importance of bees in nature and food production.

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Alanda Young


I visited Alandas property on a crisp winter's morning and it was nothing short of magical. Their self-built home sits on land that has been in her partner's family for 30 years. It is here, snuggled between citrus trees, where her wild hive lives in harmony with her chickens.


Alanda fell in love with bees while studying horticulture in her early 20s, quickly becoming fascinated with the world of entomology. Working in a plant nursery, Alanda was able to stop the use of pesticides and instead implement beneficial bugs; using bees and other insects for pollination and organic crop protection.


Alanda went on to do a scholarship in Sumbawa, Indonesia, where she worked with the local honey hunters and discovered just how fundamental bees are, and how threatened they are becoming. Alanda taught the local community to turn the wax - which they had previously been discarding - into skincare products and candles. It was this work that drew Alanda closer to the magic of bees, and on returning to Australia she started the apiary at The Farm in Byron, where she began teaching workshops for aspiring beekeepers.


In recent years, Alanda has downscaled her hives as she adjusts to life as a new mum; a transformation that has been both challenging and enriching. Her daughter, now two, is wide-eyed and curious, no doubt absorbing her mothers love for the earth and the bees. Alanda has attributed her hive as helping her on her journey after becoming a mother. “The calming effect it's had on my nervous system is like a type of therapy for me. . . the feeling of being part of something greater.”


Alanda created the facebook group Beekeepers in Skirts, which serves as a safe space for connection, inspiration and education among female beekeepers. “Being a woman in beekeeping has been a very empowering experience. I feel a hive is kind of like a sisterhood. . . Anyone privileged enough to be drawn into caring for them benefit on so many levels, not just from the honey and products but also the powerful trust relationship that forms.”

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Tammy Gardner

The Raw Bee Co


Tammy and her partner, Mitch, run The Raw Bee Co in Yamba with the support of their three young sons. The family have almost 100 hives which produce a seasonal variety of honey, as well as candles and moisturizer exclusively from the Clarence Valley region.


Before becoming a beekeeper Tammy worked in high-level dementia care - a role that she loved and thrived in - but after joining her partner on beekeeping ventures she fell in love with the calm nature of the apiary. Mitch has several years experience in beekeeping and together they now run their own business.


The hives pepper their land beautifully, arranged at different angles and heights. As I observed them at work, it is clear that calmness is key in this operation, as both Tammy and Mitch prefer to not use protective suits unless absolutely necessary. Controlling their emotions is a huge part of their process while on site with the bees.


Though she confesses to struggling with the heavy-lifting, Tammy has been a key part in their expansion of the business outside of honey; “The beeswax production line was my biggest concentration, having an eye for presentation and great communication skills has been a big help.” Tammy runs their regular market stalls and is the vision behind their popular wax-candle collection. “There isn’t much downtime, but you go to bed at the end of the day knowing you’ve accomplished something great”


The couple are yet to enjoy their honeymoon, but consider their greatest joy to be the simple pleasure of having a coffee in their apiary, appreciating how far they have come together.

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Kathleen & Wendy Longmuir

Naturally Nimbin Farm


Wendy and Kathleen are the mother-daughter duo behind Naturally Nimbin Farm, which operates on their beautiful property in the Nimbin Valley. Over the past five years the family have grown their hives from 1 to 50; remaining dedicated to a 100% flower-fed, pesticide-free operation.


It is no surprise that Wendy was drawn to this corner of the world. Having grown up in Wales, Wendy moved to Australia at age 16 and met her now-husband shortly after. Their self-built home sits hidden on top of 100 acres of rolling hills. “All I wanted to do was be a nurse and a mum; beekeeping never came into the equation!”


Wendy’s eldest daughter, Kathleen, is also a nurse, and the one who introduced beekeeping to the family back in 2016. After discovering a local beekeeping group, Kathleen was given a colony of bees and built her first hive with the help of a local who was keen to develop a beekeeping community in Nimbin.


After the introduction of the initial hive, Kathleen moved overseas for two years. During that time - to Kathleen's surprise - her parents embraced beekeeping and expanded their operation, creating “Naturally Nimbin Farm,” which now sells not just honey but mustard, shoe polish, beeswax wraps and more!


“I feel that some of our defining features of a honey business is that we never move our hives off the property to chase the nectar flow, and we don't re-queen our hives… we have found the bees know how to make the perfect queen themselves.”


Kathleen is grateful for the support she has received from fellow beekeepers, as well as the shared vision and support of her family. She implores aspiring beekeepers to join groups, make connections and do good research, being sure to follow the biosecurity rules set up by the department of primary industries.


“There's no right way to keep bees. Read everything you can, do your own research and find a way that works for you.”

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Kat & Hope

Australia’s Manuka


Kat and her partner, Michael, began their beekeeping journey with just a few hobby-hives in the coastal forests of the Northern Rivers. Now, a quarter of a century later, the family-run operation has over 900 hives and exports their medicinal honey all over the world.


Kat has worked in all parts of the operation, from beekeeping to business planning, extracting and packing. Her daughter, Hope, a financial advisor by trade, now works to support the business through business strategy and financial guidance.


Kat and Hope don’t do a lot of the hands-on beekeeping now, as the operation is so large and physically challenging. “We prefer to work on the business rather than in the business, investing time in family meetings and future planning.”


Though they both love working in nature, they recognise the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss. “We suffered severely in the drought in 2019 and then the fires hit us as well. It has been really scary to have our bees, our lives and our livelihood threatened. We are still recovering financially.”


When asked about the future, Kat and Hope explain that they will have to be both nimble and innovative in dealing with the challenges of a changing climate. They both believe in connecting with other farmers, especially the female community, to share and exchange ideas. “There is lots of really good education out there; from the NSW Government as well as organisations like the Young Farmers Business Program which has helped us and our business.”

About the Artist

Hannah Pye is an Oxford-born photographer and storyteller based on the east coast of Australia. Her work is rooted in impactful storytelling; documenting the people and organisations making a positive impact through conservation, regeneration and environmental innovation.

Acknowledgements

A huge thank you to all of the beekeepers and their families who shared their stories and invited me into their homes.

Thank you to my Aunty Helen and cousin Jenny for your life-long beekeeping inspiration, knowledge and support for this project.

Special thanks to Joel, Venetia and the team at Young Farmers Connect, who inspired and supported this series, and who will be featuring it in their annual magazine at the end of 2021.