You can travel to a different country and a different place – miles and worlds away, full of different sights, sounds, tastes, and smells, but there is always a connection that can be made, a collective understanding among complete strangers through universal truths.
As a working mother of two young children, it had been a long time since I experienced a trip that ignited such inspiration and wonder. This working assignment gave me a lot to ponder and it was a gift, for sure. Thank you for allowing me to share.
🌱 💚 🌱
In May I traveled to Wuyuan, China where we source the organic tea for our Jasmine Green. It is home to Dazhangshan, the first and largest Fair Trade tea cooperative in China and our partners for over twelve years. It was hot and muggy, and the mist that was clinging to the mountainous hills was burning off.
I walked up a steep muddy path from the gates of the factory, side by side with the workers. All of them are women, carrying baskets to collect the harvest with hands weathered from picking for so many years. Smooth, but creased with storied experience. I find out through an interpreter that one of the women has been working here for ten years. I study her hands and think about how I have surely had a cup of tea from the leaves she once plucked. That single connection suddenly becomes a defining and profound moment for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my weekend farmers’ market visits, but there is something wild and completely humbling about meeting this farmer, halfway across the world from where I usually enjoy my cup of tea. I watch as her hands move harmoniously, plucking the top two leaves and the bud. She moves as if conducting a symphony. Her basket is soon half filled. And all I am left with is gratitude. She is the origin and I am the ending.
I am one of a team in China, here to film the story about connection to and impact at Dazhangshan, from the long-standing partnership to the success of Fair Trade for the farmers and the community. It’s the kind of utopian tale that Fair Trade dreams of; a story of people thriving and success at multiple levels. And as that story becomes apparent, a deeper, more interesting story emerges for me: one of true friendship.
Mr. Hong, chairman of Dazhangshan, and Brian, Numi’s president who once led all of our sourcing relationships, have now known each other for many years. I can see it in the way they interact. They do not speak the same language, but the formality of business and strangers is not there. It is comfortable and familiar. It is in the way that Mr. Hong’s family joins us for dinner each night. It is that Mrs. Hong harvested vegetables in her garden and gifted me a cucumber. It is the ability to all share a laugh together when Brian blasts Al Green from his phone and enjoys an impromptu dance with one of the pluckers. It is spending an hour of zen helping Mr. Hong weed the terraced rows of tea bushes.
As we film the pickers, it starts to rain. It turns from a few drops to a deluge in a matter of minutes. These women are pros though. They pull out their umbrellas and plastic rain covers like I am sure they have done hundreds of times before. It is raining so hard that we make our way back to the factory to wait out the storm. While we sit and wait, I notice that they have smart phones. A tale of modernity, income equality, and a thriving economy. I catch the image of children on one of the women’s phone and try to charade my way into asking how old her children are. I pull out my phone and share the pictures of my girls. We both make “ohh” and “ahh” sounds as we share our pictures. Not needing to speak Chinese, or her English, we understand that we share the bond of motherhood. Our hopes and worries are similar for that fact alone. Wanting the best for our children and working hard to ensure that we give them all the opportunities we can. Balancing it all. We see each other.
Towards the end of the day, we are at the factory. Watching the freshly picked leaves go from the baskets into the dryers – all before getting transferred to the main factory that helps sort the tea leaves.
While the crew is filming the last shots, the tea factory manager, Mr He is also trying to get ready for dinner. He lives on site with his family, in a small apartment off the back. Tonight is special, as one of his daughters recently had a baby. The expression on his face when he sees his grandchild is nothing but pure joy. They are having a big family dinner tonight to celebrate all being together, and the energy in the air is sweet and buzzing with love and excitement. It is special indeed to witness such a tender moment.
I learn that Mr. He’s daughter grew up here. The work he has done in his time as farm manager has provided well for his family. He was able to send his daughter to University and off into the big world. The bright story here is that she has decided to return, to use her education to help further the business. This is a rare story these days, as farming is tougher to do and higher incomes mean that people are choosing new careers in urban areas. Sharing your craft and watching your children grow into something you helped build must be incredible.
One of the best highlights of the trip was visiting a school. Using the funds from the Fair Trade collective, a school dormitory was built. A picture of the building has even been featured on the back of our box.
With only a couple hours to visit, we jumped right in with the kids. We were a delightful disruption for many of the classrooms: skipping to the front of the room to say hello, playing basketball in the courtyard, and practicing the few Chinese words we had picked up, which ended up as an eruption of laughs.
The experience of being there, holding the hands of these kids as we ran around in a circle, was a beautiful reminder of why brands like Numi and programs like Fair Trade are so important. To see a community that is thriving, from the top owner, to the farmers and workers, and to their families and friends, shows how vital a few extra pennies and a bit of humanity and care truly are. No doubt we need a little more of that these days.
The next time you open a Numi tea bag, my hope is that you take a moment to honor and think about the wondrous journey it has made to your cup.
In good health, Erin