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Legally Sweet. The law firm and the humble honeybee

30 September 2016

Alan Tate talks about honeybees and their sweet nectar with a sparkle in his eye and an infectious enthusiasm in his voice; the former lawyer's personality goes against the legal profession stereotype of big egos and monetary motivations.

So how does an unusual bond between the Harris Tate Lawyers founder and the humble honeybee blossom and, in the process, help the Tauranga firm carve out a unique, environmentally-friendly trait?

“In a past life I was a Bay of Plenty kiwifruit orchardist, and brought bees into the orchard for pollination,” explains Alan, who formed Harris Tate Lawyers alongside Ross Harris in 1995.

“Bees are fascinating creatures. A beehive isn't just a cluster of individual bees; it is a colony where every bee has a function, and those functions change over time – whether a worker, drone or the queen, the hive has a collective mind of its own.”

After hanging up his suit and tie at Harris Tate four years ago, the 69-year-old turned his passion into a small profession, running a ‘one-man band' business. Alan supplies hives around the city, and procures honey from his own hives to share with the clients.

Four hives currently sit at his former offices at 29 Brown Street, kept in an enclosed courtyard, and dear to his heart due to their distinct location amid flourishing flora and fauna – particularly the rows of magnificent pohutukawa.

Each year, without fail, these towering trees flower prolifically from mid-November to late December, adding a splash of vibrant red to the scenery at a time when few other flowers are in bloom. It's a match made in heaven for the bees, according to Alan.

“It always seemed a waste to see them flower magnificently and all that wonderful nectar go to waste, when it could become a honey that has a wonderful flavour.”

This synergy between hives and Harris Tate has help bolster the firm's long-standing commitment to the environment, headlined by the development of a new, environmentally sustainable building in 2007.

Though completed before the Green Star Certification system was in place, it was Tauranga's first privately-owned building that would achieve five-star status under the certification criteria. Substituting natural light and airflow, in place of the more ubiquitous florescent tubes and air conditioning, is just the beginning of the building's innovation.

Harris Tate director Grant Harris says they are proud of their unique focus on reducing the firm's impact on the environment, which includes Alan and his bees.

“The ‘LLB' associated with a law degree has more than one meaning for us, since we properly branded Alan's honey to be called L.L.Bee, which also ties in with the name of Alan's bee operation, Al's Bees.

“When clients can see him tending to the bees, usually from the boardroom, it certainly turns heads and the first question staff get asked is, ‘What is the story behind the beehives?'.”

While cliché, Harris Tate is a hive of activity; busy not only with helping clients through various legal issues, but with its 160,000-strong bees, producing up to 50 kg of honey per year for Harris Tate, which is split into 250g jars.

“I'm struggling to keep up with demand! What I supplied last year was twice as much the year before. So they [Harris Tate] will have to ration it a bit until the pohutukawa flower later this year,” quips Alan.

Sweet success aside, Alan says we all need to think about the honeybee and its important role in our biodiversity and economy.

“Bees are under threat, not just from the long-term effects of the varroa mite, but various environment challenges.

“They are a long-standing part of the environment and without them we would be a lot poorer for it. Just think, even as far as people in their gardens with fruit trees and tomato plants needing to be pollinated, they would struggle.”

His solution? More businesses taking a leaf out of Harris Tate's book and considering hives or gardens on their premises, to ensure bees continue to flourish and contribute invaluably to the urban landscape.

“Tauranga is a very bee-friendly place, with the flax under the Chapel Street overbridge, fruit trees, and garden flowers all fantastic sources of nectar.

“Plus, these bees do particularly well in town given the year-round warmer climate, where even in winter they can feed and bring honey in. So I urge our city to consider what it can do, because every bit counts.”

- Published in Life+Style (The Weekend Sun) on September 30, 2016. Photos: Bruce Barnard.  

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