From art to beekeeping: Why Steph Munro switched to the sweet life in Southland
Responsible for millions of bees, 26-year-old Steph Munro of Southland’s Munro Honey now combines her design skills with the sweeter side of life.
Words: Lyn Barnes
Steph Munro was about five when her family moved from Hamilton to Southland. “Dad loves cows, and the grass grows better down here.” But Steph still has firm connections to her hapū near Te Aroha, Ngāti Rāhiri Tumutumu. Family means the world to her; she has three brothers and one sister.
“We were a bit of a gypsy family, moving almost every season. It meant being jumbled around six schools, as well as being home-schooled by Mum.” Her high-school years at Aparima College in Riverton and then Central Southland College in Winton were more settled.
“I enjoyed school. I loved English, all the arts subjects and biology.” When she left school, torn between art and science, she wrote a list of potential jobs. Then she applied for 12 courses. She was accepted for all of them.
In the end, Steph did a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Southern Institute of Technology in Invercargill, majoring in graphic design. The skills she learned during her tertiary years set her up for her new career.
“I’ve been able to brand my business, build my website and design my packaging. I love what I do now as I get the best of both worlds.”
Steph also studied photography as part of her course and takes her own photographs.
In her first job as group marketing manager for Southland Farm Machinery, based in Invercargill, Steph did everything from graphic design to creating advertising campaigns and writing radio scripts.
“Having a farming background, I understood their world. So adding my creativity to it didn’t seem too hard.” In 2016 she became enchanted by bees, stumbling across a talk at a local garden centre when shopping for plants for her garden makeover. The subject was bee-friendly plants.
The 23-year-old was captivated by the glass hive on display and it was love at first sight. “I’ve always loved nature and animals. On the farm growing up, I would adopt everything in sight. I remember taking in a nest of duck eggs once and adopting lambs. (She still has two 16-year-old pet turtles and two dogs.)
A week later, Steph signed up for a part-time apiculture course. Halfway through, she discovered her great grandfather was a beekeeper. “Bees are in my blood.”
Steph was approached by NZME to work as a media consultant, selling mostly radio and digital advertising. She loved the job but was also preparing herself to become a full-time beekeeper. When Steph told her husband, Ryan, that she wanted to give up her career to start Munro Honey, he laughed.
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The new season is peaking around the corner and I am excited!! 😁 Who else is buzzing to get started?? (Sorry, love any excuse to use a bee pun! 😜) All my girls have been checked after the brunt of Winter and I am really proud to say we didn’t lose a single hive! 📸 @pix2envy
“But he encouraged me as I’ve always wanted to work for myself. He pays for everything, anyway.” The couple, who were high school sweethearts, have been married for four years. Steph’s family fully supported her, too.
“Mum has always encouraged me to try every opportunity that came my way, and it’s something I follow to this day.”
Giving up full-time work meant selling her car to buy the necessary equipment, such as the 50-frame extractor. Steph does everything, from collecting the honey to labeling the glass jars and the marketing. She prefers to use sustainable products.
“You can buy pre-waxed plastic frames, but I’d rather buy the wooden ones and make them up myself with a nail gun and wire and add the wax foundation.”
Unfortunately, Steph gets stung often. As a result, she must carry an EpiPen. She also bought a vented suit so the bees can’t get at her so easily. “My doctor told me to give up. You either build up resistance or become more reactive, but I can manage it.”
Steph recently returned to some part-time graphic work, mainly doing website and brochure design to supplement her income. But she’s also buzzing with ideas to expand the honey business and establish a local bee garden.
However, next season looks like it could be challenging — apart from being “a proud mumma” to her three million bees in 60 hives from the Catlins to Bluff, she’s due to have her first child in March.
1. You don’t know what you don’t know. In business, you wear many different hats, and can’t be expected to be a master every one of them. Don’t be afraid to seek advice, and at the end of the day, if you’re still not sure, listen to your intuition.
2. The importance of balance. Sleep, good food, exercise, unplugging from social media and devices and spending time with loved ones are all as important as the hours spent in the office.
3. Don’t be afraid to dream big. Don’t let people tell you your head is in the clouds and that what you are dreaming of can’t be done. Dreamers have achieved some of the most amazing feats in this world.
4. As Nelson Mandela said: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”