+Jus Tea on Episode 2 of my podcast. They are now entering the second phase of their fundraising campaign. Grayson and Paul Bane took some time to answer my questions about their mission, the Kenyan tea industry and more. Please give it a read and consider contributing to their campaign on Fundrazr. It is companies like JusTea that are transforming the industry and making the word a better place for tea farmers. The beautiful pictures scattered throughout this post are from the Bane family's trip to Kenya in February. Make sure you watch their update video at the bottom of this post. I'll be reviewing some of their teas very soon.
Has your family always been tea drinkers?
We have not always been avid tea drinkers, but since learning more about tea and the culture behind it, we
have all developed an immense appreciation for it. Now it's rare that you won't find a stray tea leaf or two on the kitchen counter!
What inspired you to start JusTea?
I (Grayson) have started many businesses, and not wanting to retire, I wondered with my entrepreneurial skills whether a business could be started in a country such as Kenya. It was upon travelling there and meeting a tea farmer named Davison that sparked the idea. Him and his family were so gracious, so kind, that we built a lasting relationship. JusTea is founded on just that - relationships.
How is what JusTea plans to do different from other Kenyan grown tea?
In the traditional model, tea is grown on small farms and sold at very low prices to massive corporate tea processing plants. The leaves are then processed (by machine - known as CTC (crush, tear, curl)), sold, and shipped at grossly elevated prices, leaving very little profit for the farmers. JusTea is going to build small, cooperative processing 'kitchens' at the farmer level so that the end product will be a higher quality, hand rolled, whole leaf tea. This results in more profit for the farmers, and a better, fresher tea for the consumer.
Why is it important to support small farmers?
More than 500 000 tea farmers in Kenya live on less than $2 a day. Equipping them with the right training and tools will provide better education for their children, and a higher quality of life for the whole village.
How much progress have you made since the last round of fundraising?
The first round of fundraising allowed us to set up infrastructure and partnerships here (Vancouver) and in Kenya. There are many political and cultural barriers that take a great deal of time and effort to break through. Currently, everyone working full time with JusTea are volunteers.
How have the Kenyan tea farmers benefited from your program so far?
We have acquired a tea exporting license for our partners in Kenya and established the infrastructure to export tea in November. But more than that, the relationships we have made are worth more than any dollar amount. In November the farmers will be expertly trained in hand processing their own whole leaf tea and will receive better than fair trade prices for the tea we purchase from them.
What are your goals for this next round of fundraising?
We aim to raise $20 000 to purchase equipment, build the facility, and hire a trainer. We managed to find one of the leading experts on hand processing black tea from Darjeeling, India. As luck would have it, his name is Buddha. He will be leading us through the construction of the 'kitchen' and teaching the farmer and his family the best methods for processing.
Are there new types of tea that you are introducing in Kenya?
We will only be using what tea is already growing there. There can be risks with introducing new plants/species to an environment. What will be different, however, is the process it goes through. Almost 99% of tea from Kenya is ground up CTC for tea bags, JusTea farmers will be processing tea by hand, the end product is a higher-quality, fresher, WHOLE leaf tea.
What can the average tea drinker do to help?
The best way to support is to purchase some tea from the website, and tell all your friends about it. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and help spread the word!
What do you see in the future of the Kenyan tea industry?
We hope to see more equitable sharing and partnering process with the growers. We are starting with one of these 'kitchens,' but hope to implement more and more tea kitchen co-ops as JusTea grows. Equipping the farmers with the right knowledge and materials will enable them to have a greater ownership of their tea and increase their tea earnings for their families.
You can find out more about JusTea here.
Contribute to their fundraising campaign here.