The Loushuiyuan cooperative is located in the village of Yanping outside Hefeng County in South Western Hubei. Yanping Village has produced tea for centuries, but production has slumped since the 1980's and the local tourism boom has yet to make an impact in local farmers' income. Hefeng County was one of the last counties in Central China to be connected by a highway, and was one of the last in Hubei Province to complete the national government's “poverty eradication” program.
To get to Yanping village one has to rely on an odyssey of trains, busses, and hopeful hitchhiking or arranged cars. We managed to book the right bus, and arrange a shared car, exiting at a small village point where the mountain road dips down to follow the river.
Just a short walk up the road lies the Loushuiyuan production facility, a large warehouse with three floors, the first for producing the tea, the second for sorting and packaging, the third for storage.
Note: In 2022, the upper floors were renovated into a restaurant.
Walking up behind the production facility, one arrives at the old mountain top hamlet of traditional Tujia Houses comprising the Manying Hamlet.
It is in this upland village where One River Tea has rented a house and an acre of tea fields to produce green and black tea in cooperation with the Luoshuiyuan cooperative.
Our next door neighbor is an 80 year old lady who has lived on this mountain all her life, and indeed the house we rent is one of her three sons’ house.
A large majority of the tea bushes here are actually Longjing #43, though the Cooperative Head has been doing her best to preserve the local heirloom varietal teas, insisting that new teas are planted around the older bushes. This can be seen very clearly by the shape these heirloom bushes take.
Unlike most Chinese producers, the Loushuiyuan Cooperative places a high value on both sustainability and solidarity. All of their tea is grown, processed, and sold by a handful of farming households in Yanping Village.
The Farmers themselves own and manage the cooperative, without direction from outside entities, corporate or otherwise. They are truly a successful example of cooperative self-management.
As for sustainability, although a portion of their fields have been allowed to grow wild (no weeding, pruning, or fertilizing, etc.), 100% of their tea is pesticide-free and grown organically.