Thursday, May 12, 2005

Decline of family tea farms

I found an article in China Daily about the falling number of independent tea farmers in China.

The article focuses on how the prices of the most expensive teas are rising as more and more family-run tea farms are getting out of the business. The cause, says the article, is that young people are leaving the farm and heading toward the big city.

But what the article doesn't say is why growers are having trouble getting their children to take over their tea farms—farms that, in many cases, have been in the family for generations. It's not just because young people are draw by the Siren's call of big-city neon. A big part of the exodus from tea farms the world over is money: Traditional, family-owned and -operated tea farms can't compete against the agribusiness corporations that are getting into the tea business. Corporate farms drive down prices to the point where independent farmers can no longer support themselves on their farm income. This is exactly what has happened in the U.S. (And look at the mess that has created.)

The growers of ultra-premium tea mentioned the article are probably the last to feel the squeeze. Producers of middle-of-the-road (read "affordable") teas started getting out of the business long ago, but prices didn't rise because the corporate farms that drove them out of business made up for the fall in supply. Most consumers don't complain because the price of tea goes down in some cases? What's so bad about that?

Well, what's bad is that agribusiness corporations focus on the bottom line—profit—not quality. And they certainly aren't bothered by the damage they do to the environment by using barrels of pesticides, fungicides, and other agrichemicals to squeeze every ounce of profit out of the land.

This is exactly why Mellow Monk is supporting small-scale agriculture by buying our green tea from only family-owned and -operated tea farms.

As an aside, the article also mentions that in Hangzhou, capital of East China's Zhejiang Province, a popular greening is "Having you had your tea today?" Interesting. Wouldn't it be great if the expression caught on here. It would be much better than "Have you had your burger and fries today?"

—Mellow Monk

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