One of the highlights of moving back to Northern California has been the presence of the ancient redwoods. I think about the history of these giants and the effect that the inhabitants of the area have had on them and I can’t help but draw similarities between the redwoods of Northern California and the ancient tea trees of Yunnan, China.
Native American tribes lived among these majestic and ancient trees for thousands of years. They lived among them sustainably and with what I can imagine was respect for the role they played in the ecology they lived in. Settlers moved into the area during the gold rush and in the 1800’s managed to change the light these majestic trees were seen in. They were no longer a prominent tie to life hundreds and thousands of years ago, but solely a cash crop.
The same disregard for the benefit of the natural ecosystem can be seen in other areas of the world, such as in the rainforests of the Amazon and the tea-growing areas of Yunnan, China. It’s a practice that I, and many others, see as a lack of respect for the earth. But others see it as a necessary means of survival.
In areas with ancient tea tree growth, we have seen trees cut down and sold for lumber, or cleared out to bring in higher-yield clonal gardens or crops. This is a dilemma for which there is no easy answer. Companies such as Rishi Tea have found a great solution, but it’s one that has to be developed and nurtured over time. Rishi’s owner and founder, Joshua Kaiser, has been working with the locals for years developing bonds with them. More than just developing bonds, he has created lines of commerce. They keep their tea trees in place, preserving thousands of years of their history, and are also able to create a crop that keeps the community going.
We can’t expect to go into a village and change the local way of thinking unless we can substantiate the claim of preservation with direct sales. We can try to educate locals to keep the ecosystem of tea trees in place. but we have to offer an alternative source of income. Unfortunately, in the case of the redwoods, there was no official “ownership” of the land, so settlers came in and, in a very rogue manner, took something that was not theirs for their own profit.
What I can do as a consumer is purchase from companies that I know support the education of land stewardship through lines of commerce and respect the history of a people that is told through their environment. I will buy ancient tree tea and I will visit national redwood parks. The beauty of living in Northern California is that I can take my freshly brewed ancient tea with me and drive half an hour to visit the majestic giants that generations before also gazed at in wonder.