De la tierra a tu taza con amor. From the land to your cup with love.
Are you picturing a dreamy fields of flowers and happy farmers, flowing straight to your steamy cup of tea on a rainy afternoon.
Well, never has it been more true than with this artesano partner of ours, Love&Tea. We got to see their slogan - de la tierra a tu taza con amor - first hand during our visit to them last July.
I first met Rachel nearly 10 years ago in Antigua, Guatemala. It wasn’t often I met other women in the agricultural development field, so it didn't take us long to strike up a conversation about side hustles, dream projects and feminism, and she told me her sueño to build a social enterprise run by women, selling nutritious and medicinal products made from the herbs grown by those same women in the highlands.
On a chilly morning Vivi and I sip our cafecito in the parque central of Xela, waiting to pickup Maria Ixchajchal Ordoñez - lovingly called Mary - the Manager and Director of Sales at Love&Tea for a tour to visit 5 of the cooperative’s best female farmers.
DE LA TIERRA ( from the land )
Almost all the products in Love&Tea’s herbal blends come from their producers in Totonicapán, a region in the Western Highlands of Guatemala at 8,000+ feet above sea level.
Their work takes advantage of the incredible biodiversity grown in this region. While 55% of the territory in Totonicapán is beautiful, dense forest, herbs are growing everywhere in the rich soil at the skirts of the region's volcanoes.
Maria Luisa (lemon balm) is a perennial shrub that grows in nearly everyone’s back patio, and just happens to be great for applying directly to wounds, adding a fresh lemon scent, and calming a rushed mind. Pericón (Mexican Tarragon) is a stunning perennial with bursts of gold seemingly floating across the landscape that grows well in the highlands region, supporting pollinators and calming stomach woes along the way. Manzanilla (chamomile) self seeds easily and spreads its love through even the toughest pedacitos of soil.
We first met Victoria by the side of the road after she dropped off her son at school. She is a full-time mother, full-time farmer, and full-time lover of the land. Respect to nature, water and the forest was one of the first values she learned from her family.
Victoria works with her father on his land overlooking the mountain. They produce and harvest many crops - plums and pears, onions, lettuce, broccoli, lemongrass, corn, tomato - but their land is mostly used to grow pericón and St. John's Wort, which they harvest twice a year, “When blessings from the heavens come.”
In the past, they sold their beautiful pericón to a factory that makes shampoo soaps. Now, they proudly sell to Love&Tea to help beautify and nutrify the tea mixes with other women in their community.
Because of their deep love for the land, and their belief in the value of long-term investment in their soils, Victoria and her father do all the work by hand. No pesticides, just a hoe and their strong hands clearing the rows of their crops.
Isabel Tzunún, another farmer in the cooperative, shares this deep love for the mountains and forest, taught to love and respect all plants and animals as nahuales, protectors, of the area. “We must protect these animals, because if we don’t, the water from the mountain will dry up.” In case the nahuales se enojan, Isabel built a rain water collection system to collect ample water from the sky and irrigate herb fields in the dry season.
A TU TAZA (to your cup)
We met Isabel and Juan Elias Tzunún in their home in Paxtocá, Totonicapán. They are one of the longest standing producers with Love&Tea, and their daughter Manuela now works at the production plant in Xela, about a 45 minute drive from their aldea.
Juan Elías met us in town to escort us to the farmland, but he is all too quick to defer to his partner Isabel as the expert. “The herb growing is her business, and I’m proud of her for that.”
On land that has belonged to their family for more than 100 years, they produce herbs of basil, lemongrass, mint, ruta, eucalyptus, and chamomile, along with other products to eat and sell including lemon, nísperos (loquats), güisquiles (squash) and corn.
The walls around the old property help ensure that the herbs they grow remain clean since no animals have access to them (unlike the other parts of the canton, where dogs and cats and other animals roam free). They use the roofed house to process the harvest of herbs, and they even the harvest of some of their neighbors, to protect the herbs in the drying process.
After the herbs are harvested, initially dried and stored, the coordinadoras from Love&Tea pickup on a weekly basis to take to the plant in Xela where they receive the herbs the women bring, weigh them, clean, wash, disinfect and process the products
The women of the Love&Tea cooperative take the processing very seriously - this is beyond fair trade and beyond organic in my opinion. Before coming into their production site we were sprayed, our shoes cleaned and disinfected. We were given hair caps and shoe caps, and only allowed to stand on the outside the processing room - they keep this space as clean and sterilized as possible, and only authorized personnel with aprons, hats, and boots are allowed.
After the herbs are cleaned and dried, they're transferred safely to containers and stored in a separate room. Every herb is meticulously labeled and a color-coded map on the door helps them keep the 40+ containers organized and ready for fulfilling orders.
Of course, there's a space out back in the sunshine where many cups of tea are shared, basking in the literal fruit of their labor.
Before we left, they couldn't help but make us a few cups of tea. A mix of pericón - a pleasant, almost smoky anise-flavor, with lemon verbena, chamomile, cudweed, mint and a balance of fruit peels for sweetness - orange, beet and peach.
Con Amor (With love)
And it all comes with love. The women in the cooperative work with much care and effort, and their love for the land and the processes is undeniable. Love&Tea supports their micro producers by improving processes, offering technical support, and doing evaluation/reflection work afterwards.
Not to mention, their work empowering each other as women is… outstanding.
Carmen Tzunún rents some of her father’s land to grow her herbs, living with four generations of powerful women: Carmen’s mother the abuelita, Carmen the Abuela, Carmen’s daughter Elvira who studies environmental sciences, and Carmen’s nieta of just 10 years old, proudly showing off onions she’s growing in plastic bottles strung from the tree. Who says you need land to grow, when you’ve got ganas?!
We all don sweaters and caps and scarves to protect from the chilly morning air in Totonicapán, but not abuelita - she’s tough, they say.
Carmen has always healed her children and the children of her community with herbs. She has studied in different regions of Guatemala, from Cobán to Huehuetenango. Stomach issues, coughs, colds and mal de ojo as well, these herbs have cured all kinds of physical, emotional and cultural ailments for generations.
Doña Carmen made us lemon verbena tea – her version of ‘morning coffee’ - and wouldn't let us leave without taking some piloyes to plant in Colorado.
Doña Isabel took care of us with a basket of refacciónes, atol to drink and tostadas of ground chicken, homemade tomato sauce, celery, onion and parsley. Her atol is the traditional recipe of the area "seasoned" with maria luisa (lemon verbena) instead of cinnamon as seen in other parts of Guatemala. The texture smooth and thick with chunks of corn.
The thing that stands out here, as we walk through the fields, is the value of the work the women are doing here. It's not just growing tea. They’re growing community, and empowerment, and biodiversity.
As Mary tells us as we drive home that afternoon, their work is about connecting different cultures - Quiché families in Totonicapán with the bustling city folk of Xela, with the grateful consumers in Estados Unidos. And how grateful I am that they share not only their product with us, but their wisdom too of generations of herbal medicine.
You can find our Love&Tea blends at the café six days a week, hot or iced.
A FEW RECIPES FROM THE WOMEN OF LOVE&TEA
Victoria’s recipe for te de pericón: 3 glasses of milk with 4 leaves of pericón.
Isabel: Atol sweetened with maria luisa instead of cinnamon.