• Brew Good: Grace Farms Seeks to End Forced Labor

    Grace Farms Foods CEO Adam Thatcher says that even though slavery was abolished globally nearly a century ago, more than 28 million people are trapped in forced labor worldwide. Poverty and lack of access to education create opportunities for those who stand to benefit from the exploitation of vulnerable men, women, and children. In modern times, forced labor takes the form of work with little to no pay, fear and coercion, and restricted freedom of movement. This often occurs at the beginning of the supply chain when our tea is grown, food is harvested, our clothes are made, and the materials used in our buildings are extracted.

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    Grace Farms Foods CEO Adam Thatcher
    Grace Farms Foods CEO Adam Thatcher

    Ethically and Sustainably Sourced Tea

    What makes our line of organic teas unique is that the herbal blends are naturally sweet ? much sweeter than you’d normally expect. They’ve got about 10% organic stevia leaf in them, just as if you were to pick it out of the garden. Since the success with those blends, we’ve been developing a line of black teas, and we’re getting ready to come out with green tea and wellness blends, says Grace Farm Foods CEO Adam Thatcher.

    Grace Farms Foundation aspires to advance good in the world, providing a peaceful respite and porous platform to experience nature, encounter the arts, pursue justice, foster community, and explore faith.

    Dan Bolton: Adam, welcome to the podcast. Tell us about your mission and vision and introduce our listeners to how the tea you sell plays a key role in improving suppliers’ lives.

    Adam Thatcher: Thank you for having me on the program. I’m a big fan and very excited to share our story.

    The story begins at this amazing place called Grace Farms. It’s a cultural and humanitarian Center in New Canaan, Connecticut, where we’re free and open to the public, we pursue justice, and where people can come and encounter the arts.

    We also foster community at this place. We want to be open and welcoming and inviting to everyone.

    Tea has played a critical role, tea being this common beverage that everyone enjoys around the world that conveys a sense of hospitality of welcoming from a host to a guest, but also the comforting nature that when you come to a new place, whether it’s at a friend’s house, or going to a place like Grace Farms, a nice warm beverage helps you lower your shoulders a little bit, find that commonality and then begin the dialogue.

    So, our story with tea begins there. We expanded our tea game to another level when we established Grace Farms Foods, a public benefits subsidiary of Grace Farms Foundation created to share our signature coffees and teas with the world. And that’s really where we got started.

    Grace Farms' elegantly flowing roof. Photo by Sahar Coston Hardy
    Grace Farms’ elegantly flowing roof. Photo by Sahar Coston Hardy

    Dan: Your range of premium teas seeks to end forced labor and mirrors Grace Farms’ aesthetic: Making the world more just, sustainable, and peaceful. Will you tell listeners about your blends and sourcing strategy?

    Adam: Our tea blends are unique because Grace Farms resident tea master Frank Kwei developed them.

    Frank has welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors to Grace Farms with a warm cup of tea and fantastic conversation explaining what Grace Farms is. Our first line of teas were organic herbal blends that are his own family recipes.

    Frank Kwei

    What makes them unique is that the herbal blends are naturally sweet, much sweeter than you’d normally expect. They’ve got about 10% organic Stevia leaf in them, just as if you were to pick it out of the garden. I find it hard to go back and drink a regular herbal tea like chamomile that doesn’t have this natural sweetness. And for us, it’s exciting because we’ve packaged a perfect blend all in one sachet, with no need to add sugar that probably isn’t organic and has been heavily processed.

    Since the success with those blends, we’ve been developing a line of black teas, and we’re getting ready to come out with green teas and wellness blends, all using Frank’s expertise to come up with these inspiring blends.

    Dan: Where are you sourcing your teas from?

    Adam: We source teas and herbals from around the world. So right now, our teas are coming from India and Sri Lanka. We’re now going to begin bringing in teas, green teas from China, and Matcha from Japan. The herbals come from a wide variety of places. For example, rooibos comes from South Africa, lavender from Croatia, and chamomile from Egypt. We are trying to find the best origins from a quality standpoint and then digging into the supply chain to ensure that they are ethically and sustainably produced, sourced, and traded.

    Dan: Let’s talk about your concerns about forced labor and the problems associated with child labor. Describe for our listeners what can be done and how.

    Grace Farms Foundation is a not-for-profit organization, and its stake in the ground is to end forced labor worldwide. It has a particular focus on supply chain analysis and a priority on the building materials supply chain because it sits at the interesting intersection of architecture and human rights.

    Tea has given us this new opportunity to not only demonstrate through building materials, which is a very unconsumed friendly industry, right? You build a building once, and it lasts for 50 years, whereas tea is something that’s consumed daily. So, when we decided to start Grace Farms Foods, we ultimately decided to start it with three goals. The first is to share our signature teas with everyone. The second is to demonstrate and educate about ethical and sustainable supply chains. And the third is giving back 100% of the profits to support Design for Freedom. This initiative began at Grace Farms to stop forced labor in the architecture and construction industry.

    We began building a program to demonstrate and educate about ethical and sustainable supply chains during the pandemic. The opportunity to travel to origin wasn’t an option, to begin with, so we started by saying, okay, how do we have some reassurance that we’re not participating in forms of child labor but also make sure that human rights are being respected and, and that fair pay is being given to those farmers or those tea workers for the work that they’re doing?

    So, we looked at Fairtrade certification and changed our Fairtrade certifier to partner with Fairtrade International and the US branch of Fairtrade International, which is Fairtrade America; it’s the most globally recognized Fairtrade certification around the world. It began in Europe and works with FLOCERT. We saw this as an opportunity to lead the conversation in the tea industry here in the United States by partnering with Fairtrade International to become Fairtrade America’s first US brand to use Fairtrade-certified ingredients in our teas.

    Fairtrade International has more rigorous standards, and it is producer-led. It focuses on smallholder farms and includes those stakeholders in every conversation, from setting standards to paying premiums and minimums to the ecology and environmental practices exhibited by these certified farms that we sourced from, so that was the beginning for us. But then that’s just using a third party to say, Okay, there’s been an audit, they’ve met our standards, but then there’s this need for what I think is the most important is that first party audit you going to the origin, meeting with the tea pickers, talking with the team managers, and making sure what they’re saying aligns with what the factory worker is saying, as you’re asking these questions, and getting to really immerse yourself in the culture. Tea in some of these areas around the world, like Darjeeling, is more than just a job or an industry. It is life. It is culture. And so, for us to experience that was incredibly validating. It creates an opportunity for long-term relationships when you find a partner with values alignment like your own.

    Dan: Two-thirds of the transaction price is concentrated toward the retail end of the tea supply chain. How do you bridge the gap between a consumer paying a higher price and a producer not fully benefitting from that well-intentioned purchase?

    Adam: As I mentioned, partnerships are the cornerstone to creating a fantastic and sustainable product, not only from the conventional view of sustainability, environmental and from humans, right said but also from a business side, right, because as you develop a stronger relationship and partnership, then you find more efficiencies, and you’re able to supply even a larger market. Our partnership began, ultimately, with a fantastic individual by the name of Kunall Patel, who is the owner and CEO of Davidson’s Organics.

    In my opinion, all tea needs to be organic. It is crazy that the wide, very large share of the tea market is grown with pesticides sprayed on it and synthetic fertilizers put into it. This is a very, very lightly processed product that is put in a cup with boiling hot water poured on it. Then you drink it. So growing tea organically addresses two issues, the consumer’s health and the lasting effect on our environment.

    Organic farming practices have been proven to protect soil health, improve water retention, create more resilient plants, and create a more reliable crop year after year. So that should be the non-negotiable, lowest common denominator the entire tea industry should be moving towards.

    Now, beyond that, right? Let’s be honest, deforestation is also occurring because there is not a proper living wage for small farmers which is the reason they need to continue expanding their growing areas. The last consideration is whether the suppliers are using biodynamic practices. Biodynamic farming is essential. Intercropping with native species of trees and other shrubs that attract different types of microorganisms and insects that all benefit the soil health, not only helping to trap carbon tea, is actually a very effective plant at absorbing CO2 and trapping it in the soil. Biodynamic farming practices accelerate that process.

    So, that’s where there needs to be buy-in, and that does have to come from consumers. Right? Consumers need to stop buying tea that’s not organic and does not meet those standards.

    Our commitment is that the tea source will meet these minimum requirements. One of the reasons we chose to partner with Fairtrade International is because they have a whole Climate Resilience Program that helps educate the producers at origin on how to create more resilient farms and how to use more organic practices that will combat climate change.

    As we grow and we’re able to generate a profit, nothing would make us happier than to continue to strengthen those relationships with the producers where we’re sourcing our teas.

    Grace Farms: The Season of Light

    During the winter season, Grace Farms offers opportunities to reflect and engage in programs for people of all ages, from afternoon tea on Wednesdays, served by expert Frank Kwei, to helping those in need to listening to improvisational arrangements of seasonal musicto participating in one of our many programs related to our initiatives of nature, arts, justice, community, faith, and Design for Freedom.

    As in all seasons, visitors are invited to explore our nearly 80 acres of natural landscapes and walking trails. For those interested in a deeper understanding of nature and our universe, there are a variety of facilitated programs such as bird watching and astronomy. Grace Farms is open and free to public six days a week.

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  • Tea Biz Podcast | Episode 41

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    Hear the Headlines

    | Fairtrade International Predicts Climate-Related Disaster for Small Tea Farms
    | Chemical Fertilizer Supplies Disrupted
    | Holiday Helpers are in Short Supply

    Seven-minute Tea News Recap

    Tea Price Report
    Oct 23 – Sale 42

    India Tea Price Watch

    After a missed week of the auction, North India saw good demand in Kolkata, Guwahati, and Siliguri. Last week saw the highest weekly sale volume for 2021. In Kolkata, 83% of Orthodox tea on offer was sold, and the Middle East remained the top buyer. However, Darjeeling tea saw less uptake. In Guwahati, the market showed good demand for CTC and Orthodox teas, and major blenders were active. In Coonoor, buyers from North India were active, reportedly due to demand during Diwali, one of the biggest Indian festivals. Read more…

    Aravinda Anantharaman


    This week Tea Biz travels to Lincoln, England for a visit with Will Battle, author of “The World Tea Encyclopaedia” and managing director of Fine Tea Merchants, Ltd., a wholesale tea import and export venture that supplies tea merchants with mainstream offerings as well as rare teas and herbals.

    Will Battle on the unique costs of producing specialty tea.
    Will Battle details the additional costs of producing specialty tea.

    The Cost of Producing Specialty Tea

    By Dan Bolton

    Growers are taking initiatives on quality at all levels, blurring the lines between the everyday and specialty sectors, says tea wholesaler and author Will Battle. But is manufacturing specialty tea worth the effort?

    “Frequently it probably isn’t considering the amount that growers need to invest from a financial and human resources perspective to make the very best teas,” he says.

    The costs of producing the distinctive taste of the authentic, transparent, eco-friendly, clean-label formulations that are so popular with Millennial and Gen Z cohorts are significantly higher than what growers spend supplying conventional tea. A preference for chemical-free cultivation, third-party certifications, energy-efficient, carbon-neutral processing and transport, and recyclable and biodegradable packaging further erode margins along the length of the supply chain. Consumers who pay a premium at retail for specialty tea often leave growers to foot the bill. This raises a fundamental question: Is anyone making money making specialty tea? Read more…

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    Will Battle on the costs and questionable return on investment for growers making specialty tea


    A tea farm in Kerala, South India, one of several climate “hot spots”? identified by Fairtrade International

    Fairtrade International: Small Tea Growers Face Climate-Related Financial Disaster

    Limited access to capital will make it difficult for farmers to finance adaptations to changing climate that will generally lower yield, reduce tea quality, and lead to more instances of catastrophic failure in tea “hotspots” globally.

    By Dan Bolton

    According to Fairtrade International, a hotter and drier climate poses a severe financial threat to millions of farmers in major tea-growing regions.

    The third-party certification organization released a 148-page report ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland (COP26). Fairtrade CEO Nyagoy Nyong’o called the study’s results “extremely alarming and a clarion call for immediate and comprehensive climate action.”

    The study assessed climate impacts on bananas, cocoa, coffee, cotton, sugarcane, and tea producers. Juan Pablo Solis, Fairtrade’s senior advisor for climate and environment, said, “the way climate change affects the planet is extraordinarily complex.” He cited “mounting challenges that they [Fairtrade International certified farmers] face if the international community continues to fail them.” 

    In summarizing the impact on tea, the authors state that tea-producing locations will be subject to considerable increases in the number of days of extreme temperatures, especially under the high emissions scenario.

    Read more…

    Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP) are described in two climate scenarios through 2050. RCP4.5 is the current trajectory, and RCP8.5 is the more extreme scenario. RCP4.5 assumes global mitigation will enable the atmosphere to stabilize by 2100. RCP8.5 presents a future where mitigation efforts fail and greenhouse gases remain high.
    Smallholder spreading fertilizer by hand on tea farm

    Chemical Fertilizer Supplies Disrupted

    By Dan Bolton

    Closure of fertilizer manufacturing plants in the UK and record-high prices approaching $1,000 per short ton in North America foretell cutbacks as global food prices reach a 10-year high. There are ample stocks and capacity, but timely arrival is a concern due to the shipping crisis and fertilizer prices are prohibitively high for some applications due to rising energy costs.

    China, the world’s largest agrochemical manufacturer by tonnage, cut output due to rising energy prices but has since allowed manufacturers to maintain high operating rates to meet domestic food security requirements. Fertilizer exports surged in 2021 with a total of 10.8 million metric tons during the first eight months of the year, an increase of 46% compared to the same period in 2020. In July China suspended phosphate exports and in August exports declined by 26% to 2.78 million metric tons.

    As prices spike across a broad range of plant nutrients European growers say they may be forced to idle croplands or plant less fertilizer-dependent crops than corn, for example.

    In the US the price of urea increased 26% in the past month reaching $0.80/lb.N [per pound of Nitrogen] with anhydrous at $0.57/lb.N., an average $940 per ton. Potash is up 15% compared to September.

    Biz Insight – The disruption is troubling because tea is a very demanding plant requiring 300-450 kilos of Nitrogen per hectare for high-quality shoots plus three secondary nutrients and 10 trace elements. No soil in any part of the world can continuously provide full nourishment for plants producing economically significant yields without fertilizer.

    Holiday workers are in short supply
    Holiday workers are in short supply

    Holiday Retail and Delivery Workers in Short Supply

    Workers in US retail and warehouse fulfillment are in high demand and short supply as major employers’ staff up for the holidays.

    Seasonal culinary workers, delivery drivers, and retail clerks are among the 4.3 million “missing workers” unable or unwilling to return to work, according to the Wall Street Journal. Money Magazine notes that 10% of seasonal job postings on Indeed.com include the description “urgent.”

    Amazon expects to hire 150,000 seasonal workers (up 50% from 2020) and is paying an average of $18 per hour. Supervisors can qualify for $3,000 signing bonuses in key slots. UPS is advertising warehouse and package-handler jobs at $22 per hour. Walmart, Target, and FedEx round out the top five seasonal employers with a combined 600,000 slots to fill.

    In response, smaller retailers and cafés are offering additional hours and more stable work hours to existing employees, investing in staff training, and promising to transition the most promising new hires to full-time work in 2022. New hires are requesting more flexibility and benefits. The shortage means seasonal and full-time job seekers have greater leverage this year to negotiate bonuses and benefits and wages greater than $15 per hour.

    Biz Insight – There are 10 million US job openings as workers quit at the highest rates on record. Nearly 50% of US adults in a recent LinkedIn survey said the pandemic has changed how they feel about their careers. Of those who view their careers differently, 73% said they felt less fulfilled in their current jobs. The greatest decline in the eligible worker participation rate is among women, workers without a college degree, and those in low-paying service industries such as hotels, restaurants, and childcare, according to the Wall Street Journal. Pandemic accelerated early retirements among those 55 and older is a trend that economists say is unlikely to reverse.

    — Dan Bolton

    • Read more… links indicate the article continues. Learn more… links to additional information from reliable outside sources.

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