Regenerative Agriculture, Climate and Tea
What is regenerative agriculture?
Regenerative organic agriculture is hard to say and sounds jargony. But the principles are actually quite simple -- and harken back to a style of agriculture that predates America’s massive, modern, industrial farms.
It’s fairly straightforward: 1) focus on the soil, 2) take care of the animals, and 3) ensure that those working on the farm are being treated, and paid, fairly.
How do you rebuild soils? Make sure the grounds are always covered with crops. Enrich the soil with organic fertilizers (ideally made on the farm using waste materials). Don’t till the soil unnecessarily. Allow livestock to graze on the land. And rotate the crops, every season or whenever possible.
Incorporate animals: Animals are an important part of a farm — they produce waste (aka poop) that can enrich soils. Their grazing patterns help balance soils and maintain the growth of weeds and invasive species. Farms that operate as a closed loop, need some livestock either on site, or nearby.
Bring people into the equation: Regenerative farming is also about the community that helps it flourish. Without their well-being, the farm is not complete. Thus, bringing farmers into the equation, paying them fairly, and prioritizing their health is as crucial.
Regenerative and tea
The argument for regenerative and tea is similar to that of other crops— a cleaner environment for the farmers and tea pickers, a healthier crop that can withstand what nature throws at it, and a safe haven for biodiversity.
The tea estates we work with are on the slopes of the Himalayas in India. As climate change brings more extreme and erratic monsoon seasons to these regions, the communities there are reckoning with heavy rainfalls that can result in dangerous landslides. If the soil is strong, they’ll have less erosion — one of the biggest challenges when you’re farming on a vertical slope.
Plus, the richer the soil, the more vitality in the tea plant. Depleted soils, or those blazed with chemicals, lack nutrition for plants. Over time, the plants weaken, and can even die. To have bountiful harvests, rich soils are a key ingredient season after season.
For the herbs, it’s a similar issue — they’re grown on plains at the base of the mountains, and increasingly face extreme weather patterns of excessive heat and heavy rains. With strong soils, the plants are able to retain water in the dry periods, and withstand flooding in the downpours.
With so many women working daily in the estates, particularly during the harvesting periods, it’s reassuring to know that they’re working in an environment free of toxic chemicals.
The Carbon factor
Regenerative farming has been linked to carbon sequestration. And this could help us deal with the excess carbon in our atmospheres, locking it in the Earth, instead.
The principles of regenerative organic suggest that this style of farming is better at storing carbon in our soils. More research needs to be done — and across different geographies and timescales— to see how effective it truly is. We are engaging with our suppliers as they measure the carbon content in their soil to determine the long-term impact of regenerative organic. We hope to be able to share concrete data on this in the near future.
Alaya Tea and regenerative agriculture
Alaya works with farms and tea estates that are certified organic, biodynamic, and even regenerative organic.
Our loose leaf teas come from biodynamic estates who have been pioneers in this space, operating organic farms for more than 20 years. Our herbal teas come from farms that have undergone the regenerative organic certification (ROC).
This is an important distinction. While many companies are now claiming to do regenerative farming (and we are grateful for the interest), we believe it’s worthwhile for consumers to look at the details. Regenerative farming should ideally also be organic — after all, how do you continue to build soils while using chemicals that deplete them?