Follow a group of new auditors on a training session in China.
All photos by Rainforest Alliance trainer and auditor Noah Jackson.
Noah Jackson–a trainer and auditor working with farmers around the globe on behalf of the Rainforest Alliance–shares stories from a recent trip to China.
I’m sipping tea in the outdoor compound of a farmer’s house, taking a short break after helping to spread his harvest on the concrete floor to sun dry. Around me, the farmer’s children take turns carrying in small wooden stools for visitors, moving in a kind of dance around the freshly cut and ground ‘red tea’ leaves Over the past two weeks, I’ve had literally hundreds of cups of tea in mountainside houses.
This tea is one of 28 varieties grown by local farmers in this small mountain village in China’s Yunnan province. I’m nearing the end of a 19-day trip to train auditors who will soon begin working for the Rainforest Alliance. These auditors will visit farms seeking Rainforest Alliance certification to evaluate their compliance with standards for socially, environmentally and economically sound farming.
In this village, it takes a network of just over 500 families to supply a tea factory about 30 minutes away. The factory buys tea from the entire village–it doesn’t make good business sense (or good ecological sense) to buy from just one farmer. To include all of the community’s farmers is also consistent with the spirit of the local tea culture.
One of the benefits of this community approach is the wealth of knowledge it brings together. Nearly everyone in the village takes part in the tea harvest. People don’t help just because the process requires the labor; they help because participating is an inherent part of their culture.
This morning, between snatches of conversation aided by a translator, we weeded rows of red tea on a 120-acre (50-hectare) plot owned by the village council. Now that the spring tea harvest is over, farmers need to maintain the crop and build soil by adding a layer of manure and compost.
Later, at another farmer’s house, we talk about water storage and improving soil. The farmers here know it’s going to be a long road to sustainability. Looking ahead sometimes feels something like taking in the dizzying 7,000 foot mountain view here. There is so much distance to cover, yet it is important to preserve individual stories and valuable local practices as we venture together into new territory.
Gazing across the landscape, I cannot help but think about my own struggles to improve my land, to make my farm back home in Oregon more fertile. I love this idea of growing with the knowledge of an entire mountain community and knowing my place in my village. It’s an idea I want to replicate.
There are so many reasons to farm like we are living in a mountain village, and so many lessons to be learned from our work with these farmers.
Read more stories from the field from Noah Jackson.