Ever wondered what it’s like to start a tea farm? Or have you already faced the challenges? Our second Featured Grower can tell you more about the experience.
Hear from James Orrock, tea grower at Waverly Tea Estate.
Name: Waverly Tea Estate
Grower: James Orrock
Location: Waverly, Florida
Waverly Tea Estate is a small estate in its early stages, and is owned by 4th generation citrus grower James Orrock. The estate is located in Waverly, Florida, an inland area about an hour south of Orlando.
James is has contributed to the USLTG with his knowledge on plant pathology, delivering a talk at last year’s USLTG Grower Roundup. Let’s hear more about his experiences!
Getting Into Tea
James Orrock: “A little about me: I’m a 4th generation citrus grower here in Florida. My primary interest in tea is because of how much I enjoy it, but I also view it as a potential alternative crop for farmers here in Florida. I’m a current masters student at the University of Florida studying Plant Pathology, and I am excited to announce that the University of Florida will start research into tea this year.
Early Stage Challenges
I planted the first tea plants for my tea estate back in 2011 with the help from the “father of US tea”, Donnie Barrett. Personally I believe that a whole article should be devoted to Donnie, so I won’t say too much more… other than if you haven’t ever spoken with him, then you are missing out on one of the best resources available to a tea grower. Donnie has been growing tea here long before any of us had even thought about it! (Learn more about Donnie.)
My first plants I had ordered online, and immediately planted them out in the orange grove. Less than 4 months later, they had died, apparently mistaken for a weed and received a plentiful bout of herbicide! A year later and I was back in the tea game with some lovely plants from Donnie. Those plants are still with me and are my ‘practice’ plants where I can test ideas on them, and be a botanist.
What’s next for you?
This past year was an exciting year! I went from my 400 plants from Donnie, to around 5-6 thousand. They’ve been planted over 10 acres, (wide rows, but 1.5 ft spaces), so we will see how many survive, but it is an exciting step.
I’m currently a tea vendor (Single Origin Teas), and have already sold some micro-batches. My eventual goal is to work up production and to start wholesale to other tea vendors.
An important message for new tea growers…
Every place will have its own unique set of problems, whether they are weather, soil or water problems. But I want to encourage everyone even thinking about growing tea, to give it a chance. Don’t be afraid to give it a try. And don’t feel pressure that you have to have plenty of resources to start or hire a professional. So much can be learned by simply having an open mind and a readiness to learn.
You can reach James Orrock at firstname.lastname@example.org.