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Interview with a Tea Farmer

Mr. Chen is a 62 year-old tea farmer living in Chia Yi County, Taiwan. We visited his farm recently and talked with him about the business of tea farming and his life as a tea farmer.

Tea from Taiwan: How long have you been growing tea?

Chen: My grandfather bought this land in the 1920's when my father was small. I was born here and I've worked here all my life.

TfT: How has tea farming changed over the years?

Chen: Now we have modern equipment to help process the tea, but back then we had very primitive processing tools. But the actual planting and harvesting hasn't changed much. We've always picked the tea by hand, and all the plant care has to be done by hand.

TfT: Have you ever thought about machine harvesting?

Chen: That's impossible here because of the steep hills. They can harvest tea by machine down on the plains, but up here in the mountains it's not possible. Besides, machine harvesting is for low-grade tea, and we are interested in producing high-grade oolong.

TfT: Is your tea organic?

Chen: Yes, we stopped using pesticides and chemical fertilizer about 10 years ago. During my father's time we used more of that, but now my son is running the day-to-day operations and he insists on organic methods. I was skeptical at first, but I can see now that it produces better tea. And better tea produces better money (laughs).

TfT: You have many certificates and plaques on the wall here. Are they for tea competitions?

Chen: Yes, we used to enter competitions every year, and we got a lot of prizes for our tea. The past few years we haven't participated - our tea is known and we have our regular customers. All our tea is sold before we harvest it.

TfT: So tea farming can provide a good livelihood?

Chen: Now it's not too bad, but when I was young we were very poor. We got almost nothing for the tea. We grew most of our own food, kept chickens and pigs, so we had food, but no money for other things. We still keep chickens, and have a small garden, but we also have enough money to be comfortable.

TfT: You said your son is operating the farm now - do you all live together?

Chen: Yes - my son, his wife, their 3 children, my wife and me. My other children have moved to the city but they visit about once a month.

TfT: Your son didn't want to move away too?

Chen: He was always interested in the tea farm, even when he was small. He studied agriculture in university and always said that he was going to take over the farm when I got too old. I'm not too old now, but I'm happy to give him some of the work.

TfT: Tea farming seems like a nice life.

Chen: It's hard work, but it's a good life. You get back what you put in.

TfT: Thank you for taking the time to show us your farm.

Chen: You are welcome any time.

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