Field Study Findings

A Field Study – Students visit tea farms by bicycle

This is the fifth and final post in a series of posts about the importance of organic tea. In the last post we spoke about the tea culture in China. Before that, more about conditions for tea producers and organic certification. If you also haven’t read the first post yet, you can go back and read that now.

These field study findings are from 26 Year 10 Students from an International School in Shanghai.

As part of The Hutong school education programs, we led a group of year 10 students on a 7 day program appropriately named The Yunnan Puer Bike Ride. This program was part of a year-wide Chinese Program Immersion study program that brought students to the field. They rode bikes for 7 days stopping in at tea farms, picking and producing their own teas. Challenges were numerous including local family homestays, 10km mountains to scale, eating local worms and of course picking tea.

On the fifth day of the program the group arrived at a beautiful little village in Bulangshan called Manbo. As part of the program we have the students—who come from very affluent international schools—picking tea with the local school students from Manbo as a way of having school students from different worlds connect and collaborate. This process was actually inspired from an initiative taken by the Jane Goodall Institute, the youth education arm known as ‘Roots and Shoots’ This wonderful program is about connecting kids to their natural environment. It’s about supporting kids in their learning about environmental and heritage issues affecting their immediate communities.

Part of how this works is to also encourage students to become proud of their local environments and encourage a model of protecting these special places. So for the students visiting this wonderful, pristine environment in Bulangshan its also a brilliant opportunity for the local kids to feel very proud about what they do, their heritiage and their communities that raise them. For Manbo, their central commerce is around tea.

So in the long term, there is great value in mentoring these young children of Manbo, teaching them a sense of pride and belonging, showing them that what they do is meaningful and important not just to themselves but the rest of the world. It prevents them from running away to over-crowded cities like Kunming, where there’s no greater work opportunities, where they are exposed to exploitation, drugs and long-term offenders. What about instead support them with a sense of belonging by showing them that kids from far corners of the globe are genuinely interested in what they do and what they produce? These products that can bring about change and education, make communities money and enjoy the comforts that anyone one of us have. For visiting students this yard stick was to learn more about this village, this community and their new local Manbo student friends producing tea.

The questions put to these international students once they had left Yunnan and were on their way home:

  • What should we ask ourselves whenever we see an organic logo on a product in a western supermarket?
  • What is the meaning of organic to the producer of the product vs. the consumer of the product?
  • Can a local community afford this certification?
  • Who really benefits from this logo? Many brands set out with the greatest of intentions, but can that system be true for all brands carrying organic labels, everywhere?
  • How is produce tested, and how is this testing process maintained and fair?
  • How does this testing system differ from one country to another, province to province, community to community?

With regards to us as consumers, we simply need to ask ourselves: could the farmer have afforded that label? Does it necessarily mean better? Does no organic label mean that the product therefore must be laced in chemicals?

The students inferred that by empowering the consumer to ask more questions, therefore driving companies selling these products to do more of the tracing themselves as much as it would be about empowering those young school kids from Manbo village to continue growing and producing such incredible tea.

By helping the growers to feel proud of what they produce and wanting to continue to grow their market, they would intern need to be taught about the buyers preference for how their tea is to be grown. This way it’s a 2-way relationship in the creation and establishment of non sprayed and sustainable tea practices that can be trusted.

So that’s the last post in this series. Thank you for reading!

Here is some handy links to all of the other posts in this series:

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Best Growing Conditions for Tea

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