This post is written by the lovely shop manager Jen as she travels through India. She visited Singell Estate – a tea garden that we buy our Darjeeling for our English Breakfast blend and our Earl Grey tea from!
The farm was very peaceful and beautiful, in the Darjeeling district but about an hour and a half drive from Darjeeling town in Kurseong. The tea production actually takes place over night so I didn’t get to see any of the rollers or dryers in action, but we took pictures for you anyways. I realized after we left that I forgot to ask to go on the roof to take a picture of the wilting trays. The lighting inside the factory was really bad but I hope you can still use some of the pictures.
Being out in the fields was my favourite part of the day. We joined the ladies after their lunch break and they showed me how they only pluck from the very top of the table so that the plants can stay healthy. They work on one section at a time and they have a supervisor named Muna. Parveez said that it is not common for a farm to employ women supervisors. Muna used to pluck as well. Plucking is much harder than it looks! Although I knew to look for “two leaves one bud” when I tried my hand at it there were so many leaves I got flustered! Luckily Muna was a great supervisor and she helped me out.
Parveez has been with Tea Promoters India for 13 years, and with Singell Estate since December 2012. He used to work on farms that did not use organic methods, he said it takes a real shift in thinking to “change the old frame of mind.”
In organic farming there is more of a chance to use problem solving skills, it is less standardized than non organic. So instead of finding out there is a certain pest in the field and applying the recommended pest control and being done with it, there needs to be different combinations of organic product/timing/elevation to make it work. It is different every time. The motto of the farm is “live and let live” while we were in the fields there were many dragonflies and ladybirds – all the plants, animals and insects need to stay to keep farm diverse and healthy. The farm is 150 years old although it wasn’t always organic.
Each of TPI’s farms has a joint body that includes workers from the farms. Their head secretary and mediator is a woman named Chandrakala. Her family is proud of her that she is making a difference in villagers’ lives every day. She helps present the Annual Development Program – (it reminded me of how Bridgehead works) where all members of the farm are invited to attend and they are shown how the farm did in the previous year and what goals there are for the upcoming year. All FLO information and policies are translated in local language and posted for transparence. Workers work maximum 8 hour days with lunch break or get paid overtime. A new initiative is investing in Social Security bonds for workers with fair trade premiums. They are getting ready for a health fair on May 12 – they are pairing up with NGOs to have an information fair for workers with different booths set up.