My friend, California tea farmer Mike Fritts, called me last week with a request for help. I would like to ask for your thoughts and input by responding to this post.
Mike needs help determining the value of his tea farm, Golden Feather Tea. More specifically, he must validate the value of his loss during the Nov. 8, 2018 Camp Fire that destroyed thousands of acres and homes and dozens of lives. This is not about Covid; rather, this was another disaster that occurred two years ago. He is eligible for compensation from Pacific Gas and Electric who admits responsibility.
I’ve known Mike since he planted his first hundred tea plants and have visited his farm and watched him grow to where he had expanded to more than five hundred. He has supported tea educational programs at University of California, Davis and historic programs at Wakamatsu by helping them recreate one of the original California tea farms as authentically as possible. Certainly, his expertise has not diminished in value as a result of the fire; but I add in his contributions as a way of estimating the value of his boots-on-the-ground work because he welcomed all tea people to his farm for the true tea experience and education that cannot be appreciated any other way.
Our industry has lost this resource. What was it worth?
Perhaps easier to calculate is the sale of finished tea that has grown each year. But we must also consider the quality as well as the quantity. Mike submitted his handmade oolong to contests and scored highly. He shared his tea with international tea experts and won their praise. Beyond just having rows of tea plants where the new growth was harvested by machines, these buds and new leaves were all picked by hand and processed in small batches.
How do we explain the value of this to PG&E?
Gourmet restaurants help us now determine the value in real bottomline numbers. By setting the bar for serving “local” pretty high, they were willing to pay an extremely high price for “local” tea that also happened to be very high quality and for which there was an engaging story.
What are the criteria to determine the loss?
The good news is that Mike is rebuilding and replanting. He managed to save approximately 100 plants and may have a small crop this year. But precious to me is the serendipitous challenge that this poses for all of us. The Covid-19 Pandemic is devastating the worldwide tea industry. And in the U.S., tea businesses are not an essential service. But that does not mean that we are without value.
Almost all tea businesses are small, entrepreneurial businesses surviving by thin margins. I challenge you to remember the value that Specialty Tea has been for thousands of years and consider what it can be during these challenging times. How can we hone our messaging to make tea more meaningful and relevant and valuable to our customers? How can we continue to be an important part of daily life?
I invite you to share your thoughts via the comments section and also to reply directly to me at [email protected]. I will happily share them all with Mike and with the entire specialty tea community.
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