In our last post, we covered Regenerative Agriculture, what it is and why it matters. Today we get into how it is directly reflected in our name, Wild Orchard Regenerative Teas.
*Photo above: Wild deer amidst green tea trees & other native plants on Wild Orchard's island farm.
Wild Orchard teas have been grown regeneratively since long before the term "regenerative agriculture" was in circulation. As we learned how the green tea trees were planted and grown on our partner farm, we came to understand just how thoroughly they were protected from artificial inputs, grown in nurtured soil and encouraged to be taken over by nature as much as possible—all at the hands of farmers who deeply cared and knew the value of these practices. As it turns out, this is the very definition of regenerative agriculture. Our tea farmers understood the only way to produce a truly good, clean tea was through nature at its best.
When the land for Wild Orchard's partner farm was first purchased, it was not in ideal condition to plant tea trees. The soil was not suitable for Camellia sinensis to thrive, and the land was covered in weeds and an overwhelming number of giant rocks, all together making planting new tea trees a daunting project. But the farmers saw that the island itself was an incredible environment with its clean ocean mist and circulating winds, frequent temperate rainfalls, mineral-rich soil from the native volcanic rocks, and abundant wildlife. It was just a matter of putting in the hard labor of getting rid of all the boulders and weeds, and moving forward with a strong, clear vision.
When tea trees are uprooted from their original soil and replanted in an entirely new environment, they can experience shock and struggle to acclimate, rendering them weak. Wild Orchard’s tea farm was started by planting organic seeds harvested from its organic sister farm on the mainland. The farmers knew growing the tea trees from the seed up was the first essential step in producing the strongest, healthiest plants possible. Being born native to the island meant the plants did not experience an acclimation shock, and also grew deep roots (green tea plants develop much deeper roots when grown from seeds planted directly in the land rather than grown from transplants). This enabled the trees to better absorb nutrients from the rich island soil, and in turn, their thriving deep root system further enriched the soil.
All of Wild Orchard's teas come from the plant Camellia sinensis, which is a perennial evergreen. This means they grow and bloom year after year and stay green even through winter (e.g. pine trees, junipers, gardenias). Annuals only live for one season, and then die off (e.g. peas, wheat, tomatoes). Many hardworking farmers who plant annual crops each year have found ways to do it without repeatedly plowing or using chemical herbicides. Yet, perennials inherently do not require yearly plowing or herbicides since they are only planted once and live for at least several years (or in the case of tea trees, at least 30 years). Because perennials stay rooted, they constantly release carbohydrates into the soil for the microbiota to feed on (except during their dormant periods once a year). This process produces a more nutrient-dense soil. Meanwhile, the part of the plant that’s above-ground keeps the topsoil covered from overexposure to wind, sun and water, preventing erosion and nutrient loss (visit our last blog post to learn more about this). The topsoil on our farm is further protected by a variety of wild plants that naturally grow in between the tea trees throughout the fields, and any remaining areas are covered using leftover tea tree pieces from harvesting, scrap leaves and twigs that are unsuitable for tea, and seed remnants.
Over time, Wild Orchard's tea plants were allowed to grow alongside weeds and other wild plants in order to build up a tough yet synergistic constitution. But during their first four or five years, they needed some protection from being choked out by the weeds. At the time, geese were being organically raised near the tea orchard. The farmers noticed that when the geese wandered through the tea fields, they would eat some of the sprouting weeds while leaving the green tea plants untouched. This was the beginning of a totally organic, chemical-free solution to their weed problem. The geese would also poop while wandering and grazing, which naturally fertilized the soil!
As the tea trees continued to thrive among the weeds, native plants, other perennial trees and organic geese, the soil grew intensely richer and healthier. This attracted even more organic life, like insects and native wild animals like egrets, hawks, deer, rabbits, lizards, and many more, each contributing to and benefiting from this growing ecosystem.
20 Years Untouched
Our partner farmers started their island green tea with more challenges and questions than answers. Perhaps the most important and difficult challenge was that once the green tea seeds were planted and began to grow, the farmers had to leave them largely untouched for as long as possible, which meant minimal production and income. This turned out to be 20 years. During that time, they only produced a very small amount of green tea for sales, just enough to help keep the farm going, while they continued to plant more seeds and grow more tea trees. Their labor centered on protecting and preserving the green tea trees rather than adding manmade inputs to them in order to maximize production. In other words, the farmers devoted themselves to growing the purest, healthiest tea they could by surrounding the tea trees with the best of nature—and then staying out of the way.
Today the tea trees continue to thrive, and many of them are now very tall and overgrown, creating a kind of "green tea forest."
As was since the beginning of the farm, there is still no manmade irrigation system because the green tea trees are entirely and plentifully watered by the island's natural rainfall and constant mist from the surrounding ocean. The soil is fertilized purely by leftover tea tree scraps—nothing else. Wild native animals and insects are seen throughout the tea fields on a regular basis, which our partner farmers continue to share with us through photographs, video clips and stories. When Wild Orchard was first established as their exclusive international distributor, we knew we needed a name that would simply and correctly reflect what made this tea so special: that it was not only organically and regeneratively grown by uncompromising standards but also entrusted to nature for decades until it became, in a word, wild.
Wild silvergrass growing amidst the green tea trees on our partner tea farm
Whether a farm has just taken the first steps or is further along the regenerative journey, it's all part of the overall effort to grow food that is truly healthy and nourishing, and that helps to regenerate the earth from the damage that's been done to it. And, we believe there is always room for improvement. Wild Orchard and our partner farm continue to strive for better understanding and practices, and welcome opportunities to work with likeminded people in order to improve and support regenerative organic farming everywhere.
20 Years Untouched?
If you're still not sure how to gauge the value of leaving something to nature for decades, what it can actually do, check out this 7-minute video segment narrated by David Attenborough!