In Our Backyard

Cowichan Valley's Teafarm hopes to become home to Canada’s first small-scale tea plantation

Teafarm's tea plants brave the Cowichan Valley snow

Cowichan Valley’s Teafarm hopes to become home to Canada’s first small-scale tea plantation

If a Cowichan Valley farm has its way, the 100-Mile Diet could soon include caffeinated beverages.

Teafarm, an 11-acre organic farm near Duncan, is the home of Canada’s first small-scale tea plantation — although it’s still in the early stages. “

We have 200 plants in the ground and we do stress the fact that this is an experiment,” says Teafarm’s Margit Nellemann. “Right now, we’re just wanting to get them through the winter. We’re having fun doing this and they do look good.”

Nellemann and her partner, Victor Vesely, planted the tea last spring, and they expect it will take three years before the plants are mature enough to harvest. Their farm is already home to lots of tea-centric crops — lavender, hops and calendula are grown — which they blend with imported tea to sell around the Island and in their tea bar and gallery. Experimenting with growing their own tea was an organic progression.

“We both love tea,” says Nellemann. “I also have a ceramics business and I’ve been focussing on tea pots for years now, so it was kind of a natural evolution.”

Tea plants normally grow in tropical or sub-tropical climates, so getting it to flourish in Canada is a challenge. Nellemann says they’ve experimented with the plants over the winter — protecting some, while leaving others uncovered — to see which ones stand up to the elements.

“We want to see how they fare, what’s the difference, and how they make it through the winter,” she says. “Over time, you end up with some that are heartier than others . . . and those are the ones you count on to become your source of plants later on.”

The tea plantation isn’t without precedent — Nellemann says there is a tea farm in Washington State’s Skagit Valley, which has similar growing conditions — but for now, it’s wait and see.

“We have enough (plants) that we can play around with, but we’re not going to be marketing it until we’re a couple of years down the road,” she says.

Until then, visitors to Teafarm can still enjoy one of their blended teas, or visit the soon-to-be-opened tea room specializing in tea and chocolates. “We specialize in organic and fair-trade teas from around the world and we’ll continue to do that, honouring what people have been doing for centuries and what they do well,” says Nellemann.

For more about Teafarm, visit teafarm.ca.

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