Tea Sourcing In India – April 2006
Frontier's April, 2006, sourcing trip to India accomplished all of its goals--providing new, high-quality Fair Trade Certified™ teas for our line, increasing our knowledge of sustainable Indian tea production, and giving us a first-hand look at the impact of the Fair Trade™ program on the people of the tea-producing communities.
Our travelers--bulk category manager Bill Thomasson, purchasing manager Dave Showalter and training manager Tim Blakley--first visited Ambootia, an 850-acre tea garden in northeast India's well-known Darjeeling region. Ambootia, which became Fair Trade certified in 1994, includes seven villages that are home to over 5000 people, including 900 tea workers. As we saw in our tour of the tea fields and processing facilities, much of the work--like harvesting and removing poor quality leaves--is done by hand. Ambootia produces over 500,000 pounds of tea annually using organic and biodynamic growing systems.
As we spent time with people from the villages, we gained a new appreciation of the widespread benefits of Fair Trade to their lives. We saw, for example, a community school in one of the Ambootia villages we toured that was built with Fair Trade earnings. (The Fair Trade premium has also funded teacher salaries and scholarships, a reforestation program following a major landslide, and new public health initiatives.)
Next we visited the Dunsandle tea garden in the Nilgiri tea region of southern India. This area has some of the oldest tea gardens in Southern India--with several over a hundred years old. Dunsandle, which is 6,000 feet above sea level, is the source of our distinctive Nilgiri tea. A portion of the property is used to raise fast-growing Acacia trees that are harvested to produce all of the power needs for the processing facilities.
A ten-hour drive took us to the Western Ghat Mountains where we visited the Oothu and Manimuttar tea gardens, located in a large tiger and elephant preserve. (We saw several wild elephants, which we were told was fortunate--visitors almost never see them.)
Near the 12,000-acre Oothu--which provides several Frontier teas, including our Indian White Tea--there is a wind farm owned by the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation. The wind farm's 12 turbines provide power for much of the tea processing in the area, including all of Oothu's.
Health care at Oothu and nearby Manimutar (which provides our classic English Breakfast tea) is outstanding. The modern, 50-bed hospital provides free care to workers and their families. Here sustainable energy is again utilized, with the entire hospital being powered by methane gas from animal waste.
This hospital and the very impressive schools in the area are helped enormously by Fair Trade funds. We met one of the members of the Oothu Fair Trade Board--the group that decides how the Fair Trade funds are spent in the community. Mrs. Indragmary, a tea plucker, described the workings of the board and how schools and healthcare were prioritized in the use of the funds.
Like Ambootia and Dunsandle, Oothu and Manimutar are not only organically certified, but follow biodynamic principles--reclaiming all the resources (like animal manures and unused plant matter for compost) needed to grow the tea bushes in a conscientious, sustainable manner. Everywhere we visited, there was a passion for organic and biodynamic agriculture--and great pride in preserving the fertile soil for future generations.
We tasted some of the results of these sustainable methods--outstanding Darjeeling teas, a fantastic jasmine black, several very good greens, and a delicious white. We were very impressed with the quality of the tea and brought back a number of samples that have turned into new additions to our line.
Our interactions with the growers, communities and young people on this trip made us aware of the tremendous impact we can have on the quality of life in rural India--and made us more excited than ever about being a leader in the growth of organic Fair Trade Certified™ tea.