Wed, Mar 22, 2023 5:30 AM

Hops, Kids and much more


Eloise Martyn

Born and raised in Karitāne, a small rural town north of Dunedin, with a commercial fisherman for a dad, a mum from Ngāi Tahu who worked for the local council on a family sheep and woodlot farm was how Bridget Giesen came to love the rural life.

“I helped with lambing, tailing, shearing, hunting and gorse spraying, in fact a lot of gorse spraying” Bridget reflects.

Her parents still live there however Bridget, and her husband Ben along with their three young boys recently moved and now call Teapot Valley in Brightwater home.

As a child Bridget wanted to be a horse rider when she got older “A horse rider was surely what I was going to be until dad asked how I was going to fund this” smiles Bridget. Her father suggested that from his own experience of paying lawyers and accountants it could be a good profession to get into and could fund a horse habit. Bridget took this advice and went to study law and accounting in Dunedin.

After graduation she got a placement in Wellington, far away from the rural lifestyle which she missed a lot. She relocated to the Auckland office in 2005, when many Head Offices were leaving Wellington. Alongside this move Bridget, with hubby Ben welcomed the addition of their first child “It was around then that I started feeling that I was a long way from home in the South and with both working in the corporate world, we were missing our connection to the land” explains Bridget.

Together they looked at relocation options and Christchurch, post-quake, and Ngāi Tahu seemed to have a lot to offer. They both ended up at Ngāi Tahu, Bridget in the Investment arm and Ben, who was working for Fonterra, at Ngāi Tahu Farming.

They moved to Canterbury and brought a lifestyle block in Ladbrooks, just out of Lincoln which also meant they were only a four-hour drive from Karitāne. Ben’s first role with Ngāi Tahu was in Eyrewell developing forestry blocks into dairy and pastural farms, and then looking at alternative land use.

It was this role that caught Bridget’s attention “I was fascinated with Ben’s job, I would ask lots questions and we would discuss investment and sustainability, I starting growing a real interest in all the options for the highest and best land use.”

The next project Ben was involved in for Ngāi Tahu was an orchard trial of stone and pip fruits in Culverden. “This brought more interest for me and more questions” she laughs. At the same time a few people who they knew in Ngāi Tahu Farming had left and gone into hops Not long after a great friend of Bridget's Dad, George Hill, who had a hop farm in Waimea West, Brightwater, decided to sell and offered the couple the option to buy, hoping they would be interested “And we were! Hops lined up with what Ben and I had learnt, and we invested along with others in 2018”.

Due to the purchase of land to grow hops at Teapot Valley, the family now with three young sons and amid the Omicron storm at the start of 2022 moved. “It was really hard when we first arrived, the kids started school with social distancing and mask wearing, it’s hard watching your kids go through the journey of making new friends and finding their place” explains Bridget.

“One thing that does feel really good is that this place had the high possibility of being turned into lifestyle blocks which won’t happen now we are here, it’s nice to see beautiful productive land remain productive. Hops are in general kind to the land and environment. This lines up with our values of Kaitiakitanga - caring and protecting land, which was instilled in us while working at an Iwi organisation.”

Outside the team effort of running the hop farm Bridget keeps herself busy with not only being a mother but an impressive line-up of roles in the agriculture sector. She currently works for New Zealand Trade and Enterprise as Customer Director Manufacturing South Island which supports exporters, and includes subsectors such Agritech, Space, Specialised Manufacturing and Wood Products.

She is one of the five board members for Wool Impact and recently joined the Nelson Regional Development Agency Board. She is grateful for the support she has had in governance journey. As part of the Ngāi Tahu Future Director programme she was lucky enough to spend 18 months with the Ngāi Tahu Farming Board. And if that isn’t enough, she is about to complete her 12-month term as an associate director on the Pāmu Board as part of their Future Director Programme.

“What is amazing about Pāmu is the care and respect of nature’s lands and animals as well as how people come first in everything they do” Bridget explains.

She goes on to say that with Pāmu being a large farming organisation they have the collective skillsets to work through some of the big changes and challenges for the good of the agriculture sector.

“Pāmu is passionate about the future of food and farming, and they have real leadership with this passion”.

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