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Comox Valley group celebrates 20 years of supporting sustainable farming

Tea grower and producer Swapna Basumatary with tea garden workers at the Kokrajhar garden. Fertile Ground has been supporting organic tea growers in India for two decades. Photo supplied

At this year’s annual general meeting, Fertile Ground will be celebrating 20 years of connections and involvement with tea growers and farmers in northeast India.

The event will take place on Sunday, Nov. 26, at Creekside Commons in Courtenay, starting at 11:30 a.m. and wrapping up at 2 p.m.

Traditional Indian sweets, savories and chai will be served, as well as coffee, a selection of teas and a few other light snacks. The program will include some highlights of the past year, a preview of what lies ahead in 2024, and a few stories told by local storytellers about the discovery and history of tea.

Fertile Ground got its start in 1998 when local residents Kel Kelly and Peggy Carswell travelled to the remote northeast corner of India, a region known for its wild elephant population, large expanses of jungle and lush tea gardens. When they returned home, World Community, a local group involved with several community and international development initiatives, asked for their help in locating a source of organic, fair-trade tea.

That request led to several more trips to Assam, a supply of flavorful black tea, and a few years later to the establishment of Fertile Ground: East/West Sustainability Network.

“We arrived in Assam at a time when there was no internet or cellphones and virtually no information available about sustainable farming practice,” says Carswell. “Universities, government agencies and the Tea Board of India were encouraging growers to abandon traditional farming practices and aggressively promoting use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides – an approach that many small-scale farmers and tea growers had questions about. So the hands-on workshops, resource materials, videos and encouragement Fertile Ground provided were – and continue to be - welcomed with open arms.”

Ongoing financial support from Rotary Clubs in District 5020, including Strathcona Sunrise, World Community and Edible Island, as well as assistance from several partners on the ground in Assam, helped develop two training centres in the state and have played a key role in the development of the organic farming movement in Assam, India’s largest tea-producing state.

Members, supporters and people of all ages are welcome to attend the event. Guests are asked to RSVP as space is limited. For more information, visit or call 250-337-8348.