Longshan Household Farm
Our Longshan household farm is actually two families working together to grow and produce several grades of green tea each Spring. Together, the partnership owns a majority of the Dragon Mountain, or Longshan. Though much of the land is devoted to timber (planting and cultivating expensive-wood trees such as Osmanthus), they have revitalized a forgotten tea field that was planted decades ago and had substantially overgrown. This marks a beautiful return to tea for the local farmers.
They produce only green tea, roughly 3000 – 5000 jin of it each season. Their 100 mu cumulative plot of tea gardens spans three ridges of the same mountain, Longshan. At the base of this mountain is the small village where one of the co-proprietors, Zhang Yinsheng, grew up. According to this proprietor's son, Zhang Jie, his grandfather (who is now in his eighties) and other villagers used to gather and drink tea grown from the original, single tea garden. Expanding on this original garden, Zhang Yinsheng began to build the farm in the early 1990’s. In 2009, using money he made through timber and investments from his partner, a local hairdresser, he launched their current enterprise as a joint venture between the partners' two households.
The tea they produce is simple. According to both Zhang Yinsheng and his partner, all the plants have been derived from the mountain's original tea garden. Further varietal knowledge is thus unknown to either us or the farm's co-proprietors.
The farm's crop management, especially when compared to the co-operatives in Yangzhou and Enshi, are quite minimal. Periodic lane-cutting, weeding, and pruning are the extent of such activities. These tasks are still done by hand.
Their gardens, which are spread over several slopes, are mostly exposed to full sunlight. The major exception to this is a small plot at the base of these slopes. The proprietors stated that they do not use pesticides or fertilizers of any sort. It is an ostensibly organic operation and on the plants themselves, there were no obvious signs of disease.
According to Zhang Yinsheng, the enterprise employs 20 to 30 people per year. This figure translates into two manager/proprietors, four to five field hands for crop management, one cook, and fluctuating team of seasonal pickers. The picking period begins in March. On an ideal day, picking begins early in the morning and continues until dusk. The field labor is punctuated by two communal meals, which some pickers choose to take to their own homes. Once the tea has been picked, it is taken down the hill to a third party processor, where the tea is weighed out in baskets.
Pickers' are payed 10RMB for each jin (500g) of tea they pick. Some of the pickers boasted that on a good day, they can bring in around 12 jin. This translates into 120RMB per day (roughly 19USD). This is on the low end of picking wages we have encountered here in China; however, lets put this number into perspective:
The average monthly salary in our city of Yangzhou is 3,000RMB/Month. Most jobs require 8-10 hours a day for 5 to 6 days a week (usually minimal labor, e.g. sitting behind a counter, watching a shop, etc). So generously speaking 20 working days per month at 8 hours a day translates to 160 hours of work per month to earn 3,000RMB, so about 19RMB/Hour, or 150RMB/day (roughly 23USD).
Thus, the wages in Longshan are not vastly disproportionate to a standard daily wage in China, the only difference being the incredibly taxing manual labor that goes into picking tea. This year in many tea picking regions in China, there has been a shortage of field hands willing to work for such wages (continuing 2017's trend). They opt instead to move to a city and sit behind a front desk for roughly the same wage.
This obviously has many visible effects on the tea industry. Even in Longshan, the mountain is too large for such few pickers to harvest in its entirety; indeed, the owners told us that a vast majority of the tea goes unharvested, un-pruned and left to grow naturally.