Who knew tea could be so interesting!
This week my lovely friend Rebecca Bates who is not only a garden and landscape expert, but also an outstanding (and award winning) MSU Extension agent, took me to meet two amazing guys who started a tea company in Mississippi, from the ground up.
Jason and Timmy started their tea company after hurricane Katrina. At that time, they had a tree business that suffered immense damage from the storms. It would be easy to run from the complexity of being a grower after suffering such a loss. Everyone would understand. Not these guys, they have incredible resilience.They took the challenge as an opportunity for innovation, to ask the important business question “what can we do differently?”.The answer to their question was tea.
Knowing absolutely nothing about being a tea grower, they decided to embark on a journey to bring tea to Mississippi.
Research, determination, investment and perseverance over the last 8 years has paid off into a budding and growing tea operation. They are one of two tea growers in the state and likely the biggest with The Great Mississippi Tea Company
Their amazing operations.
As I tour their operations I find “impressive” around every corner.
Their attention to detail is spot on, their operations are immaculate. Everything is thoughtfully organized and spotless. Items are beautifully placed to make everything in the room interesting.
The tea shack is full of massive equipment that is used to flavour and dry their teas. They have travelled far to learn the technique of other great tea makers and openly share their learning’s with you as they walk you through their operations. Their expertise is incredibly apparent as you listen to their knowledge of plant science and tea making.
Timmy gave me a tour of the tea fields. We hop on their side by side and drive across the road from their Tea Shack to go for a tour of their fields. They have fields of what looks like hedges that you would line your suburban garden with. Those hedges are tea plants, carefully grown. I am shown a special area that houses many of their young tea plants in development. They baby their plants under shade cloth until it’s the right time to plant them in the ground. They have learned like most of us have through some trial and error how to be better plant parents.
What I appreciated was their humble sharing. Timmy isn’t afraid to show you where they have had problems. Any business owner or gardener knows that to do what they do, there had to be complexities and challenges. Their tour is not a facade of perfection but a true example of hard work and determination.
He drives me around the many acres of fields where more and more tea plants are being added to expand their operations. It’s impressive.
Although Jason and Timmy do on occasion hire local help for the massive amount of work they have, the majority of it to date is completed by them. It’s actually quite unbelievable to think they are growing, making and selling their tea all while maintaining a pristine operation mostly by themselves.
What I learned.
There were so many great learnings on this visit and I would highly recommend taking a tour to truly benefit from the wealth of knowledge they can share. One of the most fascinating things to me was just the understanding of what part of the plant is used to make tea.
To make tea you only harvest the new growth from the tea bush. And each leaf of that new growth makes different types of tea. Oolong tea is made from 6 leaves whereas green tea is made from the tiniest leaf bud. The rest of the plant is too bitter for anything else.
Back at their home, they brew a beautiful set of their teas, each one timed and brewed to the perfect tea temperature. My initial impression is that all of the tea’s are smooth. No slight bitter after taste. The green tea and peach tea were my favourite but none of them will disappoint.
Why you should support them?
Outside of the fact that these are two very nice guys, working very hard to earn a dollar, they are also bringing more local tea options to Mississippi and North America.
The #1 producer of tea in the world is China*, followed by India and Kenya. The amount of transportation required to bring you that tea has environmental impacts. Shortening the distance to your supplier is both beneficial to your community but also the environment.
Food regulations are going to be different in other countries. You can call someone here and get access to our regulations. Heck, call Jason and Timmy and they will tell you, I am sure. When was the last time you called China to ask what kind of soil and fertilizer they use? Or how much pesticides are applied to their plants? It’s a disconnect we often experience when we grab a box of anything from the grocery store shelves.
These guys will create jobs in North America. They are creating products that if one country stops sharing them, you will still have supply. They are local Mississippians and North Americans. And my favourite reason, they are plant lovers and dog lovers, how can you go wrong there.
How can you support them?
Buy their tea of course! They are available locally at Hall & Company in Brookhaven on Monticello St. Or shop online.
You can also get the full experience through one of their many tours. I highly recommend a tour, it is a really nice outing to experience.
Lastly, you can follow them on Facebook, The Great Mississippi Tea Company.
I am so grateful...
As we start on our own journey at Smith’s Nature Friendly Farms to grow into a small business, we cannot help but be inspired by these guys.
To start a garden that produces, is hard. To start a garden that produces in volume, is harder. To start a business with it, even harder.
To be kind, to share your time and knowledge is not hard, but it was incredibly awesome of them.
In the end we are so grateful to Jason, Timmy and Rebecca. Their gift of time was so appreciated by us at Smith’s Nature Friendly Farm.
Support local North American companies, buy from good people doing great things. Where your dollar goes matters.
As always, be friendly, be kind. Thanks for reading.
* Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea
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The remarkable story of an angel in Mississippi.
As many of you know Smith Nature Friendly Farms is committed to giving back to the community we serve and to nature friendly charities. Most recently, we have been working with St. Andrews Mission as a volunteer and a voice to help them garner support in the community. The wonderful people at St. Andrew’s Mission took me to meet another charitable organization which has impacted me and I wanted to share.
The story here is incredible.
An Introduction to Sarah and Greater Hope Ministry.
On this fall Friday, I am taken to an old part of McComb, Mississippi, to a run down concrete block building.
There are makeshift temporary doors. They are essentially plywood on hinges.
Once you step inside you are looking at an open ceiling and a tin roof. Looking at the tin roof you can see the speckles of sun through it. Nothing closes off the outside from the edges of the roof either. The building is in various stages of construction but the amount of work that needs to be done, feels overwhelming.
Two men are hammering some wood onto the ceiling beams and putting up sheets of plywood. Unfortunately,with the tin roof having holes, moisture is just going to make its way back into the building. More supplies are desperately needed.
What I am getting a look at, is the beginning of a vision of Sarah Conerly (pictured above). An amazing woman, who has a dream and is giving everything she has to see it to fruition. Sarah is not your average woman. She is a giver through and through. A retired nurse, with bad knees, who could be sitting on her porch drinking sweet tea. But no, instead she is trying to build a facility to fill a void in the community of McComb, for the homeless. Sarah is building a homeless shelter from scratch, in her retirement years.
For Sarah, housing the homeless is not new. In fact she has been housing the homeless in her personal residence for some time. But as she gets older her kids became increasingly worried about her safety at home. Knowing they could not stop her desire to help those in need, they had to find other solutions for their mom. This resulted in her kids getting her a building to turn into a shelter.
The building had to come cheap, there are no government sponsors. Just local donations and Sarah’s personal savings and credit cards. Of which she has spent and maxed. She is 100% invested.
Before the project even started she had to pay $1200 in property back taxes. Part of the agreement of getting to use the run down building.
As she began the process of making the space habitable, need showed up at the door. She was not ready yet to bring people into the shelter, but turning people away is not in Sara’s nature. A call out to the community got some beds and bedding donated. Four people were given a place off the streets to sleep that first night, thanks to Sarah and her donators.
Today, when I am there I get to meet Sarah for the first time. I can instantly tell her incredible sweetness. She is warm and welcoming. There is a meal planned for tomorrow for the residents and I was quickly invited. She doesn’t know me, but to Sarah all she knows, is how to let people in.
As we tour the sleeping area she tells us that she has had 8 people come stay last night. This is more than expected at this time, and already the building space she had planned for other uses, are now being looked at for expanding the number of beds.
We stop at one bed that has a residents belongings there. There is tinfoil on the floor. Her immediate concern is, is it a crack pipe? Drug use is not tolerated and residents will be asked to leave. Now imagine your grandma dealing with men, with crack pipes. This is no ordinary grandma. The tin foil reveals a toothbrush, everyone is relieved. It sucks to assume such a thing in the moment, but it is a reality as to why someone can be homeless.
There are three men in the shelter as we walk through. They spent the night. They were very friendly. Some of the men are black and some are white. Normally, I don’t care to address a person's skin color as it shouldn't matter. But I think it is important to highlight that homelessness has no boundaries to prevent any misconceptions about who is homeless. Age, race, religion, male or female, sexual orientation, does not matter. Homelessness can impact anyone. At this time, Sarah has found that the need is there for men, but she has helped women and children in the past.
She tells us she took in a new resident last night. One that has been served meals before at St.Andrew’s Mission. He has been living in a vehicle. He has been denied disability but legitimately has health issues due to diabetes. The cost of diabetes medication is certainly not affordable, leaving good people like him in a bind. They can’t work, they are not well. They don’t have money to get well. You can’t adopt a healthy lifestyle to manage your illness when you rely on a shelter for meals. Everyone really has a soft spot for him. He is an example of one of the many people who fall through the many cracks of society.
Sarah takes us around the rest of the warehouse. The last thing I see is a large bathroom area. One bathroom. Right now only a toilet sits functioning. A donation from Lowe’s. There are 8 men and Sarah here. To add to it, the bathroom has no doors yet. Just curtains.
A donated dryer sits in the bathroom and awaits a washer to be donated to work with. A gift from a kind nearby resident who could have easily sold it.
Everywhere you turn drywall, flooring, insulation and general construction needs to be done. You won't come in each day to find 10 tradesmen hammering away at the project either. She has sporadic volunteer help with limited supplies and not enough expert trades people or money.
I look at this all and I feel overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed by the work that needs to be done and by a woman who is a modern day Mother Teresa.
Ask Sarah what she thinks and she will tell you two things.
"Work hard and you will always have work. Give and you will always have something to give." She is remarkable. Her story is remarkable.
Now that you know her story, I have to ask for your help. What I have seen is a level of work that is far beyond one woman and I am hoping many people will come together to help her.
How you can help.
1. Donate money -
C/O Sarah Conerly
Greater Hope Ministry
1163 Johnny Forest Road
2. Tradespeople needed -
3. Volunteers needed -
4. Donate building materials -
We understand not everyone has the means to donate. Please consider using your social media superpowers and becoming one of her sharers. Her story needs to get out there in hopes it reaches someone who has the means (or multiple someones) to help.
You can like her Facebook page by clicking here and liking her page.
You can share this story either by visiting her Facebook page or by sharing using the following link: https://bit.ly/2QRvHhf
Thanks everyone for taking the time to read this. Please consider supporting this amazing woman.
As always from us at Smith’s Nature Friendly Farm, be kind, be nature friendly.
Its my second year of participating at a farmers market and my first year with our own farm and I can’t help but appreciate the people who support the local Brookhaven Farmers Market. The people of Brookhaven, Mississippi along with many from surrounding areas are truly good to the market vendors.
When you look around at the vendors you see we have full time farmers, home employed mothers, teachers on summer break and retirees. Good, hard working people. Many of those vendors rely on the income to support or supplement their farm.
The people who support these vendors can vary greatly. People of any age, varying diversity and backgrounds show up. They come in hand with a small handful of dollars, ready to support the vendors.
Some people don’t buy because they absolutely have to have what is on your table, some people buy just simply because they want to support you. We see that time and time again.
A man purchased 7 individually packed cookies from me because he had grandchildren coming. I was selling 2 cookies for a $1. He spent $7.00 buying all my cookies. He could have bought two packages of Oreos for that price. I doubt Nabisco would have noticed his purchase of Oreos but I sure noticed his purchase of my cookies with incredible appreciation.(1)
As a vendor you also appreciate the simple act of sharing at the market. Sharing can occur vendor to vendor, customer to vendor or vice versa. Sometimes it’s a recipe or sometimes its a story, but at the heart of it, people share their time with you.
One gentleman comes by each week and I look forward to his visit everytime. If he hasn’t shown up I feel like we missed out. He is a war vet and shared a story of how he made it out of Vietnam without a single gunshot wound, only to come home and get shot at a wedding with a stray bullet. He also bought a Maytag washer that lasted only 6 months and has a small dog whom he loves. He has never made a purchase at our table(2) but he leaves me grateful each week he has stopped by.
There are regulars who walk around and try to buy something from each of the vendors. I am sure there are regulars who have 10 jars of unopened jelly in their cupboard that they likely will never get to. Sometimes they buy things they have never made before and you worry that when they get it home, will they even like it.
One of the regulars is Sally Doty, a member of the Mississippi State Senate. Each week she comes through and supports the vendors. My impression is that her visits are not as a senator, but as a genuine person who likes and wants to support the farmers market. She was a fan of my Focaccia bread. One Tuesday after spending 3 days and 4 hours making 4 loaves of bread I had left the market without any of them sold. Some markets can be slow and Focaccia is not a well known bread in a small town. Sally showed up in the parking lot as I was packing up and purchased all four, making my day. Each week she would support multiple vendors, subsequently making many vendors day. I am sure her support of the farmers market is genuine, but at the same time you cannot discount the brilliance of her relationship building. I have no clue who else is running for State Senate but I sure know and appreciate her. It’s interesting really, that many candidates for public service campaigned at the markets, handed out flyers and spoke with us to tell us they were running for a position and I don’t remember a single one, but I will sure remember Sally.
Personally, I don’t do the Farmers Market to get rich. I do it to help supplement and support the vision of our nature friendly farm. I do it to get a chance to be a part of a community of vendors and market customers who are incredibly fabulous people.
If you have a chance to be a vendor or support a market, I really encourage you to do it. You are supporting a community and a way of life where there is still value in a human interaction.
From Smith Nature Friendly Farms, thank you to all those that supported the Brookhaven Farmers Market in 2019.
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1. Please do not take this as a negative to Nabisco. Large corporations create valuable jobs which allow people to have the money to support vendors like us. The point I am making here is just that Nabisco will not notice the person behind the purchase as it is lost in the distribution. Being face to face with the purchaser, I get the chance to notice the person.
2. I just want to make it very clear it is not about the purchase. Yes, we are there to sell a product but no one with any good values wants anyone to purchase something they don’t want or need. I made this point simply to highlight that the value does not come from a sale but from the interaction itself.
Our blog includes Google Advertisements. These advertisements can generate an income if we drive enough traffic. To date no income has been generated. It is our hopes to generate some ad based revenue to help support our continued operations and the charities that we support.10 cents from every dollar made at Smith's "Nature Friendly" Farm will be donated to the charities we work with. Learn more about how we give back.
For the sake of gardening I am going to combine the last couple of days of our trip to Mississippi into one last blog post so we can get back to Gardening content on the blog.
If you need to catch up, you can read Part 1 and Part 2 of our trip with those links.
We spent the morning completing a tour of Deadwood. We really enjoyed this town and its history. In April it was a bit early for visiting the town, quite a few stores did not open until May. But we enjoyed having the town to ourselves as we toured what was open.
Approximately, an hour and a half from Deadwood is Mount Rushmore. Probably not one of the smartest detours we made with an old truck and trailer as it was all uphill, but we made the trek to see the amazing monument of the four historic presidents.
After Rushmore we headed for Iowa. The state known for the best growing conditions and the largest producers of corn. There wasn't much growing in Iowa yet though, still very brown.
Following Iowa, we had to make the stressful trip through Kansas City. At one point the GPS was directing us straight downtown. But after an hour and one wrong turn, we made it through Kansas with no issues.
Missouri & Arkansas
Missouri showed us the first signs of green and the landscape in Arkansas started to resemble Mississippi! This meant we were surely getting closer to home!
You know you are in Mississippi when you see the Cypress trees in the water.
Our old Chevy Silverado did so much better than expected and safely took us and the trailer to Bogue Chitto, MS with no issues.
Now landed in Mississippi time to learn how to garden in a Zone 8b with the southern heat and humidity. Time to grow plants that would not normally grow in Alberta in a Zone 3. So much gardening to look forward to.
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Day 2 of our journey to Mississippi would take us from Great Falls, Montana to Deadwood, South Dakota. Deadwood has been on my bucket list for sometime, so it was great to check this one off the list. (If you missed Part 1 of the journey you can visit here to read it).
With the trailer stocked with sandwich making provisions and drinks the night before we headed out onto the road by 6:25 am.
Thanks to Mcdonalds we had a mobile breakfast with my favourite Sausage & Egg McMuffin. Normally, our dog Stella is snoring in the back of the truck, except when the food comes out.
We spent a lot of driving on this day down Highway 59. The landscape was a lot of hay fields, cattle fields and farm houses. There was no shortage of deer, they were everywhere in the fields.
The gas lesson.
Along Highway 59 we learned a very important trip lesson. Always get gas at half a tank, no matter what. We had 73 miles until the next town and just under half a tank. We should have gotten gas at this point, but we thought for sure we would see another gas station along the way.
At about 30 miles left we were hitting low. No gas stations, no towns. We stopped and used our spare jerry can of gas. All the jerry can did was took us slightly above low.
By about 15 miles the gas light came on. No gas stations.
By about 13 miles we gave in to defeat and pulled the truck and trailer over.
We were very blessed on this day as the house we pulled over in front of had someone home. We came up to a gentleman working in his yard who looked rather skeptical of my approach. But he did come over and had a gas tank on his property, which he was will to share a jerry can with us. What a relief! We paid him extra for the gas out of absolute gratitude for saving us. He said that we were lucky he was home, as normally he would be working. Lucky was an understatement.
Back on the road very quickly and never ran out of gas again, thank goodness.
We reached Deadwood around 5pm that evening. We managed to find an open RV spot, which in April we found many places were not open. KOA was famous for being closed all the way to Missouri.
Most of Deadwood was closed for the evening, so we decided to have some supper and rest for the night. We would see the town in the morning and leave later the next day.
So let's check on the success of today.
Survived running out of gas.
The Chevy truck was still running.
Trailer was still attached.
Reached Deadwood, SD, crossing it off my bucket list.
Another day closer to gardening in Mississippi.
Tomorrow - Deadwood and beyond.
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