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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