Monday, November 23, 2009

Locally Grown Tea

There are a lot of issues relating to both sustainability and tea. My page on RateTea summarizes a few of them. A lot of them, including fair trade, organic certification, and composting, are topics that most people are familiar with and that a fair amount has already been written about. I'm starting to think about another issue, however.

People don't talk much about locally-grown tea in the U.S. and Western Europe. It's generally assumed that tea grows in warm, tropical climates and needs to be imported in these countries. But this is not true. The tea plant, Camellia sinensis, is a relatively hardy plant, and while it generally likes a subtropical climate, it can be grown farther north than many people realize. Many of the famous tea-growing regions, such as the Darjeeling district of India, or nearby Nepal, are located at a high altitude where the temperature can actually get fairly cold and sometimes drop below freezing in the winter.

It would make sense that the continental U.S. and western Europe would have a number of areas suitable for growing tea, especially in the more moderate areas. Some interesting commercial tea operations prove this:
  • Pembrokeshire Tea Company's Tea Gardens - Located in Pemrokeshire, on the coast of Wales. - This claim has been since taken down, and I have received reports or allegations that this claim was fraudulent, and that no tea was ever commercially produced here.
  • Sakuma Brothers Tea - Grown in the Skagit Valley of Washington State
  • The Charleston Tea Plantation - Owned by Bigelow Tea and located near Charleston, SC.

Herbal teas:

Herbal teas, encompassing virtually any plant used in tea other than the tea plant, grow virtually everywhere that plants grow, from the tropics to the arctic. North America and Western Europe, in particular, are the origins of a countless variety of delicious herbal teas. Many of these can be easily grown in your own garden or backyard. Many plants used for tea, such as mint, are aggressive in certain climate zones, and can be grown in massive quantities with minimal effort. In addition to growing tea yourself, many herb teas are available locally--not just through small retailers but also from friends and neighbors who might have more gardening space (or expertise) than you do.

Why locally-grown tea (or locally-grown anything) is good:

Locally-grown anything, including tea, is important for promoting sustainability in that it:
  • Reduces transportation costs
  • Improves self-sufficiency - helps make your region (and you) less dependent on the outside world
  • Promotes diversity, especially in tea - because the flavor of any plant source of food or drink depends on the conditions in which it is grown, and the climate and soil conditions vary from one region to the next, each area will produce tea (and other produce) with a unique flavor.
  • Creates economic stability - droughts or disasters often happen only in one region of the world; as the total supply of a commodity becomes produced in more regions, the supply and price become more stable in the face of events that could catastrophically effect one source of the commodity.
Buying locally grown tea is something that only a few people in the U.S. and western Europe can do right now...but drinking locally grown (buying or growing your own) herb tea is something that almost anyone can do. But it's certainly something worth thinking about!

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