Natural farming and tea are not two separate things. In my mind, natural farming provides a raw ingredient, tea leaves of natural purity, and tea processing helps to bring out that natural purity in a more visible form. Tea is one way of showing what nature can do. It could have been any crops, but the world of tea allows me to look deeper into differences in quality and there are people who actively seek the true quality and subtle details.
Natural farming is a way that teaches us how to look at the world without a judgmental mind. Once we realize that, we can appreciate true quality of natural tea and natural farming.
I have never been a believer of destiny, but I do believe that the universe designs things to work for us in some mysterious way and it sends energy to take our dreams to reality. But, just like that, the idea of organic farming came into the reality of my life at the right time. When my wife and I got to the big island, the land we were going to farm was surprisingly suitable for tea cultivation. Nursery stock was available from USDA and University of Hawaii, and I discovered mentors who can taste and judge the quality of tea from Japan. My wife and I just had a trip to China which exposed us to the great tea culture of China and made me realize the connection between man and nature through tea.
Reinventing the wheel: Reviving an old tradition
There was already much information and many resources available to make good tea in Japan, but I was not interested in replicating the Japanese tea production where prices are based on auction rates and rich flavor is developed with high fertilizer use. My goal was the natural quality of tea, with inherent flavor instead that which is artificially created. Coming from a background of modern Japanese tea culture, producing tea in a natural style seems like reinventing the wheel. As I have looked deeper I have found that in many regions, some traditional tea producers still exist but are quietly disappearing. I have found myself on a path of reviving these vanishing traditions and back in Hawaii, giving a new twist to help them naturalize on the island.
Nature creates from nothing
What is so intriguing about natural farming is the discovery that nature makes visible the mystery of creation. Farming with nature is allowing creation to happen using nothing other than soil and seeds. Nature creates everything from nothing, but where does everything come from? When we use fertilizers, we become blind to nature and tend to think that fertilizer is the one that grows plants. But when we use no fertilizer nature teaches us to look deeper to find the true cause of things.
Tea is like a mirror that reflects my farming practice and just show us what nature is. Nature does not judge, it does not tell us what we are doing right or wrong. Through farming tea, nature manifests as flavor and aroma.
Natural farming is a way to look at the world without judging
Because of our judgmental minds, we say what’s better and worse. We compare and we make ranks and grades. It’s the same with tea. There are so many grades and ranks. To me each tea has its unique moment that harmonizes with us at some special point in time, and at that point, good or bad doesn’t matter. Nature teaches us about having the right thing at the right time. Natural farming is a way that teaches us how to look at the world without a judgmental mind. Once we realize that, we can appreciate true quality of natural tea and natural farming.
Natural farming in general is a natural option. Because it doesn’t rely on external source of input, it is highly sustainable farming practice. It is economically sound option as a long term plan because it is not affected by the price of imported fertilizers or pesticides. At our current time, we seem to get our labor and resources cheaper than how nature can provide, but if we look at the true cost of what we do, CO2 emission from all the machinery use and importing, cultivation practices and depleted soil and erosion problems. On one hand, we seem to have great harvest and abundant food supply, but on the other hand we neglect to see the true cost of our sacrifice. Natural farming is a way to bring back the lost balance and cheapest way to get farming job accomplished when all true costs are considered.
Tasting the difference
Just like any vegetable crop, farmers can learn to taste what type of fertilizers, if any, go into producing their crops. Tea is especially explicit and honest to respond to what we put in the soil, how we process the tea and how we pour the finished tea into cups.
Becoming a tea farmer is a commitment. Harvest has to come at the right timing under right weather condition. When tea leaves are harvested, they need to be processed in a timely manner. “Heaven, earth and people have to come together to produce great tea.” says an old tea proverb. Perhaps attraction to tea making is that when various elements for making great tea come together, we can find great joy in making tea.
And it is attraction to the unique lifestyle of tea farmer. In Japan, the lifestyle of devotion to our passion is described as “ikigai.” It is something to live for and search for self which brings great satisfaction and happiness to our lives. Being a tea producer and a natural farmer bring us closer to natural rhythm. Finding harmony with nature through tea leaves and tasting the great result in a cup is ikigai and happiness of tea farmer.