As I sit down to write this, I find myself surprised by how much I enjoy the tea I am sipping: a fresh green tea that I had the unique opportunity to make myself from start to finish. It is potently refreshing with a pristine flavor that nearly brings tears to my eyes from evoked memories of the Big Island. As it lingers on my palate, I recall the two-day journey I was invited on by the kind tea farmers Taka and Kimberley Ino of Mauna Kea Tea. A totally unexpected journey at that, as I was visiting the Big Island to see a dear friend and simply wanted to drink some tea on the farm if there was time in their schedule. It turned out there was time enough for a hands-on tea making adventure! I gratefully accepted, as I am sure any tea enthusiast would.
Let me preface this journey with a brief tale of things past. The story really begins in the spring of 2010. I had recently graduated from Dharma Realm Buddhist University with a BA in Chinese Studies and had spent much of my time since the age of 17 immersed in Asian culture. Martial arts, tea, languages, meditation, and Asian philosophy were highly intriguing to me. I had also read a very inspiring book called “The One Straw Revolution” by Masanobu Fukuoka, who promoted a profoundly natural approach to farming that deeply resonated with me. I found out that there was a tea farm that engaged a similar philosophy and was also inspired by Fukuoka’s work. So I applied to Mauna Kea tea in order to get my hands dirty and to work on an organic tea farm that had values. They accepted my request and I happily moved out to the island.
The three months or so that I worked on the farm proved to be a rich experience with lots of healthy challenges. The work ethic was of high standard and I felt like a baby in terms of my aptitude for farming. I quickly tasted the quality of their work not only in the tea but in the applied philosophy on the farm.
There were a few key lessons that I took away from those all-too-brief three months. I learned that I needed to cultivate more clarity and observational skills. I learned that I made too much mud and was heavy-footed in the fields. I saw that harmony between heaven and earth require patience and perseverance. That is a rather key point in this story. The philosophy of harmony, that is.
One of the more unique joys in working there was witnessing the efforts that my farming hosts applied toward attunement in a holistic sense. That joy of witnessing their “Ikigai” (Japanese for “meaning of life”) through farming and tea making has brought me back to them as a tea enthusiast and, in a more profound way, as a student of life. They have an excellent quote from Masanobu Fukuoka on their webpage: “The ultimate goal of farming is not the farming of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”
The word “cultivation” works very well as a metaphor here. Farming crops means caring for them in the spirit of Fukuoka’s natural wisdom. Through the farming process, people become perfected with this attentive care. These principles seem to resonate strongly not only in myself but in an emerging culture of people concerned about the impact they have on each other and the planet. The modern tea culture, in my experience, is diverse yet also relatively singular in its respect for the plant they love and the planet it grows on.
Read the second part of this article next week!