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The Benefits of Buying Tea from Independent Tea Growers

Small Farmers, Big Benefits

By Sebastian Beckwith

Farm workers in the fields of a small tea farm

We like small-farm teas, not only because we want to support the small farmer, but because their teas often taste better. Large estate-grown teas are blends of machine-processed teas with a wide range of quality. Tea is only as good as its weakest component. When modern technology is introduced, it generally serves only to increase efficiency at the expense of quality. Small-farm teas are hand-grown and crafted with great care and pride. Farmers prepare diligently for annual tea competitions. They put their hearts and centuries of tradition into their teas. Techniques developed by their ancestors are still in use today.

Family

In certain areas of the world, economic pressures are intense for small tea farmers. Many are lured by dreams of riches to the cities. The collectives who pay the farmers are usually more concerned with low prices than high quality. Recently, in some areas of China, farmers have simply left their tea to wilt on the bush. They cannot afford the effort and expense of processing, only to sell for low prices. When you purchase tea from companies like In Pursuit of Tea, you are helping to support threatened farming traditions.

Organic farming is most successful on a small scale. Small farmers are more likely to be using organic and chemical-free techniques to grow and process their teas. Pesticides, fertilizers or mechanical cutting are expensive. Individual farmers have the incentive to use things already on their farms and thus practice age-old sustainable growing techniques. The alternative to small estate-grown teas are chemically grown, mechanically harvested and processed, uniform teas of low quality. They hold no interest for the connoisseur. There's little adventure in a cup of bagged tea, blended for consistency. Cultural history and geography are lost; all mystery evaporates with them.

Artisan

Help support these agricultural artisans and allow them to continue their wonderful craft. When you buy artisan teas, you provide its makers with good prices for their products, allowing them to stay on the farm and keep their traditions alive. In addition, some tea providers such as In Pursuit of Tea will donate a portion of their profits to organizations that promote sustainable and organic production techniques.



Copyright © 2005, In Pursuit of Tea
Exploring Remote Regions to Supply the Finest Teas. All rights reserved.
Photos courtesy of Sebastian Beckwith

Lady farmer

DEFINING TERMS: ORGANIC
"Organic" as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is any food that fits the following criteria: 1) No use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, antibiotics or added hormones allowed; 2) The products may not use ionizing radiation or bioengineering (i.e., genetically modifying their plants); 3) Products, whether plant foods or animal-based foods, must be inspected by a USDA-certified agency to confirm compliance with the strict guidelines (even the restaurants and stores that handle organic foods must be certified). Additional qualifications for organically-raised animals are no use of animal by-products as feed, that the animals must be allowed significant access to the outdoors and that their history is traceable in addition to no use of antibiotics or added growth hormones.


How to Get Involved

Learn more about how you can help the small farmer through buying fair trade products. Because of fluctuating market prices and corruption, small farmers sometimes are not able to make enough to cover the costs of raising their crops let alone supporting themselves and their families. Fair trade allows consumers to buy directly from small farmers thus ensuring that the money goes directly to these producers. Products include coffee, tea and chocolate and can be purchased in many well-known stores such as Starbucks, Target and CostPlus World Market. To find out more, visit any of the following websites:

Oxfam, www.oxfam.org
The Fairtrade Foundation, www.fairtrade.org.uk
The International Fair Trade Association, www.ifat.org


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(Updated: 12/22/10 CT)


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