Saturday, April 13, 2024

Bulls, ewes and tepees, a rare mix

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Sheep and beef farmers James and Sarah Glenn are fuelling the intergenerational transfer of their farming business with a rare mix of bulls, sheep and tepees. Luke Chivers reports. 
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On a coastal slice of rural New Zealand a young couple are combining their passion for family with farming and tepees.

Te Akau sheep and beef farmers James and Sarah Glenn have a longstanding connection with the primary sector. 

Farming dominated their teenage years.

James grew up on a 500ha hill-country property at Waimai, north of Te Akau, in Waikato.

“It was the best childhood I could’ve ever asked for,” he says. 

“You’re in the outdoors, you’re in the fresh air and you’re around animals.

“I love the technical side of it, too. You’re able to apply science on-farm and see a tangible impact to what you’re doing.”

Growing up on a sheep and beef station taught James a good work ethic.

“A career in farming was always on the cards.

“But I wanted to back it up with a qualification,” he says. 

In 2006 he moved to Canterbury to study for an agriculture and farm management diploma at Lincoln University, which reinforced his desire to continue working in the sector.

Not long after graduating James packed his bags and set off on an overseas trip for six months, using shearing and wool pressing as a way to fund his travels.

“I worked in Merriden – a part of the wheat belt of Western Australia – for a seeding season.

“I absolutely loved it,” he says. 

It was during that time James met Sarah, his now wife.

Majuba Station last year carried 1000 cattle, supplying both the dairy sector and the meat works.

But, in May 2013, Sarah turned her idea into reality.

Her company, TopKata, is based in Hamilton and sources custom-made tepees from Sweden.

“Since starting out we’ve tripled our inventory.

“We now have 12 tents and they’re in high demand – from Kerikeri to Wanaka – and the business has been growing steadily ever since our launch. 

“Having this many tepees means we’re capable of doing at least five events in one weekend.”

And just like farming, Sarah’s business is based on natural elements.

The wood for the poles is felled in northern Scandinavia and the tents are made from canvas rather than PVC.

“I love the challenge and pride in building something of my own – but most importantly to have control over my work-life balance.”

Before her entrepreneurial venture Sarah was commuting 170km a day to her former job at an architecture firm in Te Awamutu.

“I quickly realised it wasn’t something that I could carry on. It wasn’t sustainable.”

At the height of the wedding season, which is typically summer, Sarah has a team of about 15 people working for TopKata

“It’s meant I can live on the farm while still bringing in an additional income. Plus, it means I can be around a lot more for our kids.”

Family is paramount to the Glenns.

James and Sarah say their next steps are to grow their business even more and future-proof it for their children.

“We’d just like to look after this place the best we can. 

“Whether any of our kids actually want to farm it one day, it doesn’t matter – we still want the farm to be here.

The property will always be an asset they can leverage off to do other things in their life, they say.

“At this stage we don’t have any radical plans for the future but we do want to do our part for the betterment of our environment, our animals and our family.

“That’s what it’s about, right?”

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