PEGGY CARSWELL, POMPY GHOSH, ASSAM TEA, CAMINO CHOCOLATE and AFFECTION FOR MAHA BHUMI (the Great Mother Earth)

A Proper Tea is much nicer than a Very Nearly Tea, which is one you forget about afterwards.
—A.A. Milne, author of Winnie-the-Pooh

So definitely find the truly most Proper of Teas.

As some of you may know, my one—okay, my main—addiction is chai tea. Nothing heavy, but it’s true. And I don’t use needles. But it makes me feel good. I’ve got my own ways, even my own ingredient ideas. For example, you can grind your own cardamom. Or, if you want a really creamy chai but don’t want to do dairy (for whatever reason) or soy, here’s what you do: You use almond milk and a little bit of coconut milk, and you’re in creamy-land.

My secrets are out. I think I’ve said enough—perhaps too much.

But what you can also do is this: you can buy really good quality tea and spices. Organic tea. Fair trade tea.

FROM THE COMOX VALLEY, CANADA TO ASSAM, INDIA

This is where Peggy Carswell and Kel Kelley come in. Peggy, out of the blue and just the other day, sent me a very kind email after having seen a little video I put together about an organic farm I visited in India. Peggy (and Kel, her partner) it turns out, have spent big parts of their life for the last ten years in the north-eastern state of often-troubled Assam, supporting, helping, encouraging “small-scale tea growers, farmers and NGO’s regain confidence in some of their traditional agricultural practices, and introducing them to the fundamentals of organic farming—which, of course, have much in common.”

This is a wonderful thing, for all the obvious reasons. For not unlike the sugar trade, which sanctions virtual slavery in Haiti and elsewhere—giving us bad teeth an bad karma—and the child labour infiltrated cocoa trade, tea’s industry record has not been pretty. So to find ways to grow it both organically, when possible, and justly, just makes the thought of it all the more beautiful.

Anyway, I wanted to mention Peggy and the Assam tea growers, and on both sides say thank you for bringing more beauty, more community, more sustainability, and the most beautiful kind of globalization into the world.

An excerpt from an article by Terri Perrin in In Focus Magazine on Peggy and Kel, really worth reading:

“I did not initially set out to become an expert on tea,” explains Carswell, “I just wanted to travel through India. Shortly after we got back, Kel and I were visiting with our neighbors, Wayne Bradley and Janet Fairbanks. They told us about World Community Development Education Society—a non-profit society they volunteer for. This organization works with coffee growers in Nicaragua and imports organic fair trade coffee to North America.

They said it was difficult to find fair trade organic tea. Since we had just been to Assam, they wondered if we had any information about how to connect with small scale tea growers there.”

Carswell had been captivated by India. The idea of sourcing organic tea and helping small farmers in remote villages appealed to both her sense of adventure and her heart of compassion.

Don’t you just love a heart of compassion? Doesn’t it remind you of all the beauty in the world? Of your own potential? Of how many countless people are finding ways to build community, increase sustainability and see each other as sisters, brothers? To see future generations…

Carsell and other volunteers from the Como Valley started up Fertile Ground: The East/West Sustainability Network in 2003. See also the Canada-India Village Aid Society.

And speaking of fair trade, and tea and chocolate, see the World Community Development Education Society. One of their products is Camino chocolate, which is my favourite, and I really look forward to Assam Tea.

You see, the thing about India, for all the news about how rich it is becoming, it remains a very poor country, with the largest concentration of ‘poor people’ in the world—and a dismal 60% literacy rate.

Being there (in the south), I just loved the people.

Oh, and here’s a paragraph from the article about Pompy Ghosh, who runs the centre:

Today, the Centre has four full-time and several part-time employees. It is managed by a capable young Indian woman named Pompy Ghosh, who spent her first year as a volunteer at the project.

Abruptly, Carswell stops talking and her eyes fill with tears. She describes the brutal family violence, abandonment and poverty that have been a constant backdrop to this young woman’s life. “This job means so much to Pompy,” explains Carswell. “When we first appointed her to this position there was a great deal of animosity in the community because it is very uncommon in Indian culture to give a job like this to a woman. She now oversees all operations, gives lectures, does the books, develops PowerPoint presentations and is our translator. I am so proud of her.”

And here’s the video of my friends’ organic farm in India, which encouraged the e-mail.

Namaste and love—and thanks, Peggy!

Pete xox

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6 Responses to “PEGGY CARSWELL, POMPY GHOSH, ASSAM TEA, CAMINO CHOCOLATE and AFFECTION FOR MAHA BHUMI (the Great Mother Earth)”

  1. Sue says:

    Hi Pete,

    Well being another masala chai addict (It’s the spices not the tea that I’m addicted to!), I just had to respond to this article so I’ll start with the details of making excellent masala chai, then comment on the social justice aspects of tea.

    I must say, a combo of almond and coconut milk sounds like an intriguing alternative to cow’s milk or soy “milk”. I love almond milk, but the commercial brands all seem to have carrageenan (a derivative of or relation to msg) in them which results in one massive migraine for me. I’ve tried making my own almond milk but it’s somewhat of a labour intensive process! Since you’ve shared your chai secrets, I’ll share mine, too–although they’re really more the result of adapting various recipes to my own personal tastes. When I make my chai, I start with lots of fresh ginger–I sometimes add some fresh turmeric, and/or some tulsi. I definitely agree with you on the advantages of the freshly ground spices–they have much more flavor to them. I use cloves, cardamon seeds, black peppercorns, cinnamon, and a very small amount of star anise.

    Thanks for sharing the information about the activities in Assam encouraging/empowering local tea growers to opt for organic and free trade crop production. I will look out for the availability of organic and free trade tea and definitely buy some. I knew there was a socially responsible company that produces organic tulsi teas and blends (Organic India), but I didn’t have the same knowledge about the availability of organic, free trade tea. It might also be interesting to research the working conditions in the growing and harvesting of spices.

    What struck me in the article by Terri Perrin was the brutal reminder of the economic hardships–further exacerbated by the stresses of being located in a politically volatile area– that so many people in the world endure because they are denied, for the most part, opportunities for the education, training and jobs that would help to make a difference. In a way, it’s a vicious circle–first people are discriminated against on the basis of caste or economic situation (and caste still seems to be a large determinant of economic status and opportunities in India–never mind that officially it’s unlawful to discriminate on the basis of caste) or gender, then the same grounds are used to deny them the opportunities that would help to improve their economic situation–a real shame considering that education (next to eliminating hunger) is one of the major keys to breaking the poverty cycle. There is also increasing evidence from the World Food Program that shows educating women is often the first and fastest route to eliminating poverty and hunger.

  2. Erynn says:

    Sue – if you’re ever in Seattle you should stop by Travelers. They make fantastic chai. Even Pete likes it!

  3. Peggy says:

    Hi Pete

    Despite my plans to spend the winter here on Vancouver Island, Kel and I are heading back to Assam in a couple of days to give a hand to Pompy – who’s getting ready for the arrival of 5 enthusiastic volunteers from various parts of Canada, all coming to help out at our demonstration garden.

    We’re down in Victoria – about to take a selection of our teas to the Victoria Tea Festival – the first foray of “the small tea co-operative” out into the big world of tea.

    Over the past few weeks, we’ve been busy weighing out packages of tea grown by some of the young growers we’re working with – Gobin Hazarika, Rajesh Singpho, Aung Seng and others. A couple of nights ago we were joined by Onyx Ogilvie (8 years old), his mom and two other friends, who dropped by to help us stick labels on tins, and tuck the packets of tea into the handwoven cloth bags made by members of the Muliabari women’s self-help group – from the neighbourhood beside our demonstration garden.

    Didn’t made it over to Vancouver this winter – but look forward to meeting up with you when I get back from Assam to share some stories and a few cups of chai………………….

    I know Pompy and our volunteers will be happy to hear the story of how you and I connected, and will be touched by your songs, the videos and the lovely images of India – much as I have been.

    Thanks for your words of encouragement – and for all the joy and love you radiate out in the world……………

    Peggy

  4. christine jeffees says:

    I am in Western Australia, surfing the net for Fair Trade organic tea and came across this site. I am very interested in the volunteer program. If you can give me any information I would be most grateful.
    Many Thanks,Christine

  5. Hi Christine,

    You can read about Fertile Ground work in Assam and our volunteer opportunities at http://www.fertile-ground.org

    If you would like further information, please contact me at the email address shown on our website.

    Looking forward to hearing from you!

    Peggy

  6. Hi Peggy,

    We are Organic Tea manufacturers based in Assam. We have 100 Acres of land under Organic Tea Plantation in our estate “DEHA TEA ESTATE”.

    For more details please visit: http://www.dehaorganic.com

    Look forward to hear from you.

    Regards,
    Varun

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