The Power of Inspiration

We all need inspiration… that feeling of hope, the reassurance that no matter where you’ve come from or where you’re at right now, anything is possible. We all feel inspired at times, some of us every single day and some of us, not nearly enough. Inspiration drives hope, mobilizes dreams and can sometimes completely change the course of someone’s life.

For a lot of people, achieving success in their chosen career can be difficult. For those first starting out, it can be hard finding that very first job and the chance to show someone their talent and drive. For those who have been working in their career for many years…maybe work has become stagnant and they’ve lost some of the drive they once had.

I believe the 350 people in attendance at JJ Bean’s Story Telling Night on March 13, got a large dose of inspiration through the ten local business owners who shared their own stories of success. We heard from John Neate from JJ Bean, David Labistour from MEC and others, including JusTea’s Grayson Bain. It was incredible to see how they got their start, how their career or business grew and the ups and downs they experienced. Success has to start somewhere and these local business leaders really proved how a simple idea can turn into just that.

The Story Telling Night was in support of JJ Bean’s habitat team who just came back from their trip to Guatemala to build homes with Habitat for Humanity Canada. The Story Telling Night was powered by Pecha Kucha 20X20. For those of you who are unfamiliar, it’s a simple presentation format where a presenter shows 20 images for 20 seconds each.

It was a wonderful opportunity to witness JusTea’s story through the power of photographs and through the words of its founder, Grayson. JusTea’s story is inspirational in many ways but at its core is the  Kenyan tea farmers and families they partner with. Although a job in Kenya is very different from a job here in Canada, we are all working towards similar goals… to support ourselves and/or our families. The difference is most of us in Canada, not all, don’t have to fight for a living wage.

As Grayson said at Story Telling Night, JusTea is creating jobs and connecting local people with those jobs. He spoke of how Kenya is the number one exporter of black tea but the tea leaf that small farmers sell has no market value before it is factory processed. Then the price they get depends on the world tea prices. Families growing tea are some of the poorest people in Kenya. These days, half a million small farmers sell tea to the factory and get to keep as little as two dollars a day. Some don’t have the choice between food, medicine and education. JusTea is working to change that.

Grayson and his wife Grace have a vision. Along with the rest of their passionate employees at their small office in Vancouver, they want to help change the lives of thousands of rural families. Most of the families they work with never had the chance to taste the tea they grew for factories after working the land for generations. To watch them, for the first time, take a sip of their own tea…tea they planted, cultivated, picked and then processed themselves through JusTea, was incredibly inspiring to Grayson.

JusTea celebrates the dozens of farmers in Kenya who have stuck it out with them, a new and growing business. Their vision is to employ 50,000 farmers and Grayson said in this day of small beginnings, they are anticipating great things.

Stories like this one and the others shared at Story Telling Night are proof of what can be achieved with a vision, hard work, a positive attitude and a little…inspiration.

Joining Forces in Kenya

Building trust, growing communities and perfecting the craft…it’s all part of Paul and Sally’s upcoming trip to Kenya. I had the wonderful chance to sit down with them before they embark on a two month-long adventure that will reunite them with the other half of the JusTeam.

As Paul thinks ahead to his fourth trip to Kenya, he can’t help but feel excited to once again be immersed in a culture where business is conducted in such a different manner than what we see here in Canada.

“One of the things I love most about visiting Kenya is how refreshing it is the way they do business there,” he said. “In Kenya, you would never see someone draw up a contract, send it to someone else, they read it, sign it and send it back. At the level we’re working at, that would never happen. Instead, you go to their house, have dinner, drink tea with them, meet their family and then you invite them to your house to do the same. Business in Kenya is based on trust and relationships first…then you get down to how you can partner together.”

It’s the same with community. Paul thinks back to one of their first trips to Kenya where they were living on a tea farm just outside of Lake Victoria with a gentleman named Davison. Davison was the real inspiration for JusTea to start this whole process.

“We stayed with him for a week and when we were leaving he said he felt really bad because his neighbours kept asking to host us as well,” said Paul. “Davison said it wasn’t fair to them, he should’ve let them. The farmers in Kenya are all about getting to know you, building relationships, and hosting you. They’re always saying, “Karibuni”, which means, “Welcome here!” It’s true. You’re usually welcomed with a greeting and then a cup of tea right away.”

Working on consistency

The main goal of Paul and Sally’s trip will be to create a recipe to make consistent great tasting handcrafted tea. They’re trying to nail down the process of how to do that while working with the small scale farming families they partner with. They will also work on developing some exciting new teas like oolong, green teas, purple teas and herbal teas with a consistent flavor profile.

Joining them in this process for a second time is Buddha, a tea elder from India. Buddha is a tea processing expert from Darjeeling who is about 70 years old and has been processing tea for decades.

Challenges

The biggest challenge JusTea faces on this trip is fabricating the machinery they need in order to perfect a consistent taste profile. A lot of farmers in Kenya depend on large factories with large machinery to process tea. Because JusTea is working on a smaller level and trying to do everything at the farm, they don’t want to do it this way. They want to be able to set up tea huts and tea villages all over Kenya and positively impact as many farmers as possible. So what they need is smaller machinery that can be replicated in these different areas.

This has never been done before in Kenya.

“It’s new to Kenya, new to these farmers and new to us as well,” said Paul. “We need to start at the very bottom, build a foundation and go from there.”

One key machine they need is a drier which they have made now. Paul said they had tried different ones over the last year, very simple ones.

“One drier was just a room heater that blew hot air into a box that was attached,” he said. “So we made another one that looks like a giant food dehydrator. It has multiple trays and is powered by propane or wood.”

The other machine they need is for rolling and this is where it gets a bit trickier.

“We’ve been rolling tea by hand but we’ve found that because different people use different pressure with their hands, it’s hard to control the quality,” said Paul. “This new simple rolling machine is about three feet in diameter and will help control the different variables. The key is we still want do everything by hand. We don’t want to be an automated system because we want to work with as many people as possible in as many tea growing communities as possible.”

The whole process at JusTea is still done by hand except the drying and with the new rolling machine, it will still be hands that work it and it will ensure good consistency.

“We try to keep it simple but we also want to make sure we have some great tasting tea every single day,” Paul said.

Making connections

For Sally, one of her main goals is to connect our world to Kenya.

“I’m always trying to get more stories from the people we’re working with, the communities they live in and the communities we are hoping to affect” she said. “I want to bring these stories back to the people that are involved with us here…from the people who drink our tea to the people who volunteer for us. The farmers in Kenya are the people doing the other half of the work. We wouldn’t exist without them so it’s important to us to connect these two worlds.”

The next two months will no doubt be full of challenging, magical and successful moments for Paul and Sally, the team left here in Canada and the team on the other side of the world. I’m sure I can speak for everyone who enjoys a cup of JusTea every morning by saying…Good luck Paul and Sally…we hope you have a great trip!

~ Karen Kornelsen