Last week, we touched on what ethically sourcing tea is and why it matters. This week, we’re going to look a little more closely at the practices of sustainable farming and what we do at MeiMei Fine Teas to make a difference.
What is sustainable farming practice? First, while most of us are familiar with the term “organic,” it is important to recognize that sustainable agriculture and organic certification are not the same things. While there is certainly some overlap between the two, it is also true that some practices that allow a farm to qualify as organic are not practices that ideally benefit the environment.
Moreover, obtaining certification can be costly, and so there are many farmers who practice sustainable agriculture without pursuing any organic certifications for financial reasons or otherwise. This is especially true within the tea industry where many of the artisanal farmers find the cost of certification to outweigh any benefit.
While many organic farming practices are driven by health concerns, such as pesticide-free farming, sustainable agriculture goes above and beyond, looking to environmental concerns. Some pesticides and fertilizers degrade the quality of soil or water or they risk adversely impacting populations of native organisms. Sustainable agriculture seeks to eliminate the use of these kinds of chemicals. The long-term goal is to support the environment and maximize its potential, ensuring that it can provide for many more generations to come.
In addition to minimizing the impact of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, sustainable agriculture also encourages responsibility with resources. The sustainable farmer seeks to maintain a healthy soil profile, promote a balanced ecosystem, and manage water resources wisely, including taking advantage of recycled rain water. Ultimately, this is about being a good steward to the environment, recognizing that the earth has given so much and that we in turn have a responsibility to give back, investing in our future.
At MeiMei Fine Teas, we expect all of the farmers with whom we work to practice sustainable agriculture. We help ensure this by traveling directly to the source and working closely with tea farmers. For example, instead of using chemical fertilizers, our tea farmers use animal waste; instead of using dangerous chemicals to eliminate weeds, our farmers choose to remove them by hand; and in lieu of chemical pesticides, our tea farmers use natural pest control, such as cultivating insects that prey on pests and planting crops away from one another to discourage pests from populating too quickly. Many conventional farmers will instead use a chemical-laden paper to wipe on the surfaces of plants to kill flies and other pests.
Fortunately, many of these practices have become more common in China, as there is a greater concern for the environment now. In the late 1990s, there were some tea farms in Fujian Province that decided to cut down part of the forest in order to grow tea plants. This was in response to a high demand for Tieguanyin. Several years later, it was discovered that their tea quality was greatly diminished due to the environmental stress that was created from clearing some of the forest. These lessons helped open the eyes of both farmers and government officials.
While China on the whole has taken many great steps toward minimizing environmental impact and encouraging sustainable agriculture, it is still a difficult goal to achieve on a large scale. After all, natural and organic resources are limited. In the case of animal waste fertilizer, production is always too small for massive tea producing farms owned by large corporations. This is not to suggest that these corporations are trying to harm the environment; it is just that they are too large to adhere to strict sustainable practices that maximize environmental benefits. For that reason, MeiMei Fine Teas chooses to travel to far and remote areas in order to source naturally grown teas from smaller, individual-owned farms. These places are often located in high mountains and other pristine areas that are environmentally preserved where there is not even a need for chemicals for farming because of the rich biodiversity of the surrounding areas.
Buying tea from companies who care about sustainable tea farming can help make a difference. We invite you to try some of our teas and taste the difference that sustainably farmed, artisanally produced tea makes.