Kinezuka Toshiaki is an organic tea farmer in Shizuoka, Japan. In the 1970s, he founded a collective of organic tea farmers, and over the years he became a vocal advocate for the environmental benefits of organic farming. During a recent trip to Japan, we had the opportunity to ask him about his experiences as an organic tea farmer. Here is part one of our conversation. Check back next week for part two of this discussion of organic tea farming in Japan.
Art of Tea: You’ve said originally switched to organic production in search of better tasting tea. What is the difference between the taste of organic and conventional [non-organic] tea to you?
Kinezuka: Organic tea has a deeper, richer taste. We often receive tea from other [conventional] farmers, and I am always surprised to taste it because it looks very good, but once we brew it, it is not tasty at all.
Art of Tea: When did you make the switch to organic tea production?
Kinezuka: In 1976. Before then, I had a strong dependency on chemicals.
If we go back to the earliest history of agriculture, we cannot find any time with such a high dependency on chemicals. In the 1960s,Japanese agriculture became highly dependent on chemicals, so the dependency has only a short history of about 50 years. In these 50 years, without people realizing it, there was a huge environmental destruction.
Art of Tea: What kind of environmental destruction?
Kinezuka: When I was little, farmers used a very strong chemical in the rice fields. After they sprayed, they would put up a red flag in the field, and the children were not allowed to play in the river. This is why I never learned to swim.
At the same time, the fish disappeared. If there had been a factory up the stream that killed fish and damaged the environment, it would have been a big social issue, but since it was farming, people did not take the same approach. However, farming is one of the biggest polluters.
Until today, there has been destructive construction that killed a lot of the creatures in the river and nature. We used to have many fireflies, but now we don’t see many. At one point, they almost totally disappeared.
Art of Tea: That’s terrible… What is the role of insects on your organic tea farm today?
Kinezuka: A professor observed two farms in Shizuoka from March to November, when the insects are the most active. He compared our farm to a conventional farm 250 meters away. The insects with wings were evenly spread over the two farms. However, the number of insects without wings was steady on the organic farm and it changed suddenly on the conventional farm. Overall, the average was lower on the organic farm, in part because helpful insects like spiders exist on organic farms. They eat the harmful insects. In addition, there was a much wider variety of types of insects on the organic tea farm.
Check back next week to learn how the diverse ecology of organic farms makes better tea.