I visited a relatively new organic tea farm during my recent visit to China for the 2016 tea harvesting.
Sitting under a tree sipping away the tea just harvested from the field behind and listening to the farmer/owner Mr Ge (in the picture with the check shirt) telling us about how he signed a lease for this then virgin farm land 10 years ago and start from building a road to access the area.
Early learning curves:
Organic farming sounded good to many a decade ago. When the talk was on for the lease of this virgin farm land, three potential partners including Mr Ge went out for their first inspection. Two left and never came back. There was no road, no water, no electricity, not even a trail to access the area. For Mr Ge and his family however, they were attracted to the natural beauty of the valley and saw a future as well as the hard work to get there.
They signed the lease single handed and started from building a dirt track from the village a couple of kilometres away just below the hills with very limited resources. A bit by bit they managed to do enough to be able to drive up to the land they had leased and set up a base camp (at where were drinking our tea).
They then built a hut and Mr Ge’s father-in-law moved in to supervise the work on the field. They planted the seeds and the plants started to grow. One stormy night, the roof of the hut was lifted by the wind and the storm went right through. He escaped to the village below on foot. When they returned the next day, the flooded creek (next to where we were sitting) washed away all the tea plants planted.
Start all over again:
The family learnt quickly with heartaches that they needed to have some control of the normally gentle and small creeks if they wanted to succeed. The started building dams. The only machine available at the time was a tiny digger that a small truck was able to transport on the dirt track. Shovel by shovel, they built three dams (ponds to be precise - see image) to collect the rain water to supply the tea fields during the low rain seasons, and manage the quick down falls hopefully.
Other facilities built to support the tea farming:
There is a spring well high on the hill to supply all the drinking water to the seasonal workers work here.
They also finally got the electricity into the area – a necessity for processing the teas.
This tea farm does not use men made fertilizer or pesticide.
They use the water gathered in the dams to water the tea plants.
They introduced free range (real!) chickens and geese to the tea fields. They run freely and feed on the warms and pests. They lay eggs in the bushes and hatch them at their own time – just pop out with little ones suddenly. The chickens and geese are fed by the farmers once a day to ensure they stay with the farm. Apart from this daily feed, they sleep in trees instead of coops.
Fertilizer - mixed cow dung with soil and composed. (see image)
There is also a dog to fend off and warn workers about the snakes around.
The principle of this organic farm is to be part of the environment, look after the environment and enjoy the environment, from farming aspects and beyond. Mr Ge's family knows most of the families in the village below, being invited to their weddings and funerals, hiring the locals for the work required in the farm. The villagers in return enjoy the casual employment opportunities, started planting banana trees along the newly built road taking the advantage of accessibility and enjoy the mutually beneficial relationship.
Sitting here to enjoy a cup of freshly produced organic tea, the only sounds we could hear were the sounds of trees, creeks and animals.