Katie Yen took over from her father’s farm a few decades ago and now she and her 90%-female team are spearheading organic tea farming methods in Taiwan.
I really admire Katie for taking the difficult path on both fronts: permaculture is no cup of tea, and female-led farms are a rare thing in the industry.
Even though women are highly involved (the majority of tea pickers are women), research shows they still experience discrimination in terms of land ownership and access to benefits and profits. Katie is changing that.
Her farm wasn't always organic. In 1999, when Nantou was hit by a devastating earthquake, Katie and her team were fortunate enough to be safe, but the road leading to the farm was destroyed, and it was not until a year later that she was able to get to it.
When she did manage to access it, she made an important discovery. Having been abandoned for a year, the tea plants not only survived but grew stronger with intense flavours and an unusual fragrance. This inspired Katie to try organic permaculture methods of farming.
Permaculture allows the development of a natural biocycle where useful and harmful microorganisms, insects and vegetation balance themselves out into a mutually beneficial ecosystem. The permaculture system is more difficult to manage but produces highly nutritious and flavourful tea leaves, with each harvest notably different from the last.
Katie’s permaculture journey got off to a difficult start. Her crops were used to a certain amount of fertiliser and took a while to adapt. She suffered huge losses, but after almost 20 years of persistence, her hard work has finally paid off.
Today, her tea plantation covers seven hectares scattered across three plots in Taiwan, including a high mountain range in Qingjing and two lower-elevation plots near Sun Moon Lake.
As a female-led enterprise ourselves, we champion other women in the industry. See the other women-led farms we source our teas from.