The philosophy that has driven Toshiaki Kinezuka for over four decades can be summed up by this statement:
" A good farmer knows that to produce good crops, one must first develop good soil. Thus, the taste of good organic tea is made half of tea leaves and half of the hearts of their farmers."
The balance between people, agriculture and nature is a delicate one, but with appropriate stewardship the environment takes good care of itself: predatory insects such as spiders, grasshoppers, and praying mantises keep pests in check while attracting birds and reptiles that improve local biodiversity; mycorrhizae flourish in the soil, strengthening the tea against disease while rejuvenating the nutrient content of the soil. The field becomes a habitat largely capable of sustaining itself. It is up to the farmer to maintain and protect the integrity of this habitat. It is the way farming has been practiced for millenia, since long before the introduction of industrially produced fertilizers and other chemicals.
This methodology has unfortunately been largely cast aside in the pursuit of producing the most tea with the least labor possible. Instead of succumbing to pressures of the industry, however, we choose to return to the roots of agriculture as we develop not only our tea fields, but work to involve nearly ten family farms in the region to produce an environment conducive for the growing highest quality tea through traditional organic farming methods.
Of course, organic agriculture has become quite the massive industry itself in the time since our new venture into sustainability began in 1976. In this world of deceptive labeling practices and seemingly innumerable certifications, the meaning of the term "organic" can sometimes feel a bit diluted from the ideal it might have once represented. Therefore, we feel that we should be explicit in describing what organic agriculture really means to us.
First and foremost, it means that we use absolutely no pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or chemical fertilizers anywhere in our operation, even though the use of certain such substances is permitted by many certifying agencies. When we kill weeds, we do so by uprooting or cutting them by hand, and only those that would otherwise hinder our ability to work on the tea. Wherever possible, these weeds are left to decompose and add their nutrients back into the soil. Other times, they are taken back home to feed the chickens and ducks.
These birds spend a good portion of their lives in the rice fields, there too eating weeds and fertilizing the soil. After harvesting and threshing the rice, the bundles of stalks are taken back up to the tea fields and laid down between the rows to slowly decompose over winter and maintain moisture in the ground, creating the ideal conditions for new, healthy growth in the spring.
We produce further mulch from the manure of our horses, the waste from our gardens and cooking, and other organic waste, such as hay that has gone moldy. All of this combines to make a potent source of nutrients that helps the soil, and in turn the tea trees, to flourish, without ever needing to introduce substances that interrupt the natural life cycles of the surrounding plants, animals, and fungi.
To us, organic agriculture means our cooperation with all of the life that surrounds us, giving to it as it gives back to us.