When Toshiaki Kinezuka decided to switch to organic farming in 1976, his fellow tea farmers regarded him with hostility and doubt. They didn't want to switch to organic farming - after all, why would they when the newly available chemical fertilisers were providing them such large yields?
Regardless, Kinezuka felt that organic farming was one of the most important things that a farmer could incorporate into their work. Due to the advent of chemical use in farming, he had witnessed the drastic decline in ﬁsh populations of nearby rivers and the sudden low numbers of once-abundant insects such as ﬁreﬂies, and knew that any method of farming that relied on killing other life was neither desirable nor sustainable. Anyway, his family had been tea producers for over 10 generations, and their traditional methods of farming had long served them well.
Due to his hard work and perseverance, after three long years he was finally able to produce tea to meet his high standards. Other farmers began to notice that his efforts were paying off... and they wanted to get involved.
He has since helped other farmers acquire their organic tea certifications, along with continuing to study how to maintain the highest standards of environmental stewardship while producing great tea. He has actively pursued the spread of sustainable tea production across the world - and now, his practice now continues with his children and grandchildren.
The balance between people, agriculture and nature is delicate - and yet, the environment is able to take care of itself. Predatory insects such as praying mantises keep pests in check and attract birds and reptiles that improve local biodiversity; mycorrhizae flourish in the soil, strengthening the tea against disease while rejuvenating the nutrient content of the soil. The land has been taking care of itself like this for thousands of years - why is it that people no longer believe in this?
The Kinezuka Family
In a world of deceptive labelling practices and seemingly innumerable certifications, the meaning word ‘organic’ becomes hollow. When we ask Kinezuka’s family about what the term ‘organic’ means to them, they reply with the following:
“First and foremost, it means that we use absolutely no pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or chemical fertilisers anywhere in our operation. When we kill weeds, cut them by hand or uproot them, and then these weeds are left to decompose and add their nutrients back into the soil. At other times, they are taken back home to feed the chickens and ducks.
These birds spend a good portion of their lives in the rice fields, eating weeds and fertilising the soil. Once we have harvested the rice, their stalks are taken back to the tea fields and laid between the rows. There, they slowly decompose over winter and maintain moisture in the ground, creating the ideal conditions for new, healthy growth in the spring.
We produce further mulch from the manure of our horses, the waste from our gardens and cooking, and other organic waste, like old hay. All of this creates a potent source of nutrients that helps the soil and the tea trees to flourish.
To us, organic agriculture means our cooperation with all of the life that surrounds us, giving to it as it gives back to us.”
Toshiaki runs the two-hectare farm with his wife Kazue and their three children Ayumi, Tamiko and Kazuki. Together, the family produces our Genmaicha Popcorn Tea - we can promise that you've never quite tried anything like it!
In Japan for Valentine’s Day it is traditional for girls to give chocolates to the boys that they like. Plus, to those who hold no romantic interest for them. All in all, it’s a pretty sweet time of the year.
Every now and then you’re going to find the Japanese Grass Lizard amongst the Kinezuka’s family’s farm - and that’s a good thing! The more biodiversity, the healthier the farm. And of course, the better the tea!
Time for some routine tea pruning! This is when the leaves are trimmed and the plant is shaped to allow new shoots to emerge, and is a process which happens each year. Busy busy!
Hosted an online tea party, where guests were invited to drink their new season sencha. Tamiko Kuchizuka spoke about three of the most important things to him: the connection of people, agricultural, and nature.
The new harvest of the Tsuyuhikari cultivar and the Yabukita cultivar.
Because their local community of tea farmers is disappearing, the family has made it a project to acquire some abandoned fields and restore them for organic cultivation. The population of farmers are aging, retiring, and abandoning their fields, and big tea businesses are buying up processing factories and controlling the tea markets - forcing farmers to sell their harvest for whatever price is offered. As such, in retaliation, they are working to teach their organic cultivation methods to other farmers in the area. They have started taking on trainees to teach them to become new tea farmers, and hope that in doing so, they will create an organic community capable of revitalising the land as well as the industry.