After retiring from a large Japanese firm, Chen Lu-ho (陳陸合) took off his business suit and rolled up his sleeves to cultivate organic tea to ensure cleaner water resources for future generations.
Growing up in Pinglin District (坪林), New Taipei City (新北市), Chen was always concerned that the pesticides and herbicides used by local farmers could severely pollute regional water resources.
With those concerns in mind, Chen resolved after his retirement from Panasonic Taiwan Co five years ago to make an effort to reduce water pollution by growing tea without using synthetic chemicals.
“Without the use of insecticides, all living creatures on earth can thrive happily,” Chen said.
Despite Chen’s strong sense of responsibility for the planet, his mother and spouse were initially skeptical about his plans. His mother rejected the proposal as she recalled her hard-working days in the past, while his wife was opposed to experiencing the bitterness of manual work in the Middle Ages.
Insisting on living up to his lofty ideals, Chen single-handedly trekked to the mountains in Pinglin to rent a semi-deserted tea plantation to cultivate organic tea.
The decision not to use conventional pesticides took a heavy toll on the first harvest of winter teas. From a projected crop of about 60kg, the first pick amounted to a mere 2.4kg, making him the laughing stock of his neighbours, who started calling him “airhead.”
Determined to improve his organic-farming technology, Chen signed up for programs organized by the Tse-Xin Organic Agriculture Foundation to deepen his understanding of the industry.
He also paid several visits to tea research and extension stations to acquire skills in tea production.
Then misfortune hit again, adding to his challenges: An unfortunate accident that occurred while Chen was weeding brought work on his plantations to a long halt.
“As I was weeding my plantation, the blades of the weeding machine struck a stone and sprang back against my shank, sliced through my rain boot and jeans, and fractured my lower leg,” Chen said.
The injuries left him hospitalized for three weeks and he had to spend six months at home to recuperate from his injury.
Following his recovery, Chen’s wife, Lin Li-chu (林麗珠), started to accompany her husband to the mountains, though she took a while to adjust to the arduous work at the plantation.
“When I went up the mountains at first, I grumbled a lot and we quarreled a lot. I constantly thought to myself: ‘Why on earth do we have to live a toilsome life like this in our 50s? Why do we have to pour vast amounts of money into this kind of life?’ We had bug bites all over our bodies and we had backaches at night. The minute we opened our eyes, there was always piles of work awaiting us,” Lin said.
Having lived a life of comfort and ease, Lin said she had once thought that money was the answer to everything.
However, Buddhism awakened in her the notion that “the purpose of our devotion to organic agriculture was for the greater good of future generations.”
“Now I feel like I am useful [to society] and I feel good about my life,” she said.
Over five years, Chen extended his tea plantation from a 0.2 hectare plot to 3.58 hectares of farmland. Last year, he joined a dozen other farmers in establishing the Ching Yuan organic tea production and marketing group, which promotes cultivation of organic tea and advocates the planting of Oiltea Camellia.