Tea is for serving with love: Try some from Green Box Boutique

Good tea, like good chocolate, is a meditative experience, a focal point for conscious choices.

A Japanese tea ceremony “is a choreographic ritual of preparing and serving Japanese green tea, called Matcha, together with traditional Japanese sweets to balance with the bitter taste of the tea. Preparing tea in this ceremony means pouring all one’s attention into the predefined movements. The whole process is not about drinking tea, but is about aesthetics, preparing a bowl of tea from one’s heart. The host of the ceremony always considers the guests with every movement and gesture.”

A simple set of ritual movements focused on serving others from the heart, and tea is at the center of that ceremony. What is it about tea that makes it worthy of this premium position?

Tea production begins in faraway fields in China, India, Sri Lanka, Japan, and Indonesia, where 85-90 percent of our tea originates. Generally, the U.S. doesn’t offer the right climate for tea production, but there are tea plantations in two states, South Carolina and Hawaii. The world produces 3 million tons of tea each year in 3000 varieties — yet all tea comes from just one plant: “All true tea comes from the leaves of an evergreen shrub, Camellia sinensis, a relative of the ornamental camellia plant (Camellia japonica) that is grown for its beautiful flowers. There are two main species: One variety, called Thea sinensis, is native to China, while the other, Thea assamica, hails from India.”

Picking the tea leaves is a painstaking process. Many growers believe that machine picking lets too many older and less desirable leaves into the mix, which produce a lesser quality of tea. Instead workers move through the fields picking the top two tiers of young leaves and the unopened buds, passing through the fields every 7-10 days as new leaves continue to grow in at the top of the plant.

Leaves are first “withered”, or wilted, by drying on racks for 10-24 hours so they become soft and pliable. Tea is black, green, oolong or white depending on when the leaves are crushed after withering and how long the crushed leaves are exposed to the air (oxidizing or fermenting). Black tea ferments the longest (3-4 hours), then oolong (1-2 hours), then green tea (oxidation is prevented by heating the leaves immediately after withering). White tea is from the unopened buds of the tea plant.

Teas are graded. “Generally, the smaller the leaf size, the faster the tea brews, giving the final product a darker shade and a more intense flavor. The larger, whole leaves offer a smoother flavor and a lighter-colored brew.”

Finally, manufacturers blend teas to keep the taste consistent and the price stable. They send specialized buyers to hundreds of tea estates to sample the teas and select those tea leaves that will work best with their brand.

Why buy organic tea?

There is one very important reason to buy organic teas: tea leaves are never rinsed after picking! This means if there are chemical fertilizer or pesticide residues on the plant, they end up in your tea. To avoid drinking a toxic brew, and to truly serve others with love, stick to organic teas.

Yes, most tea comes from outside the U.S., but that doesn’t mean it’s not up to the same standard you would expect from an organic label in the U.S.: “USDA certified tea is held to the same standards regardless of where it is grown around the world. In order for a farm to become certified organic (whether in the United States or abroad), the farm must undergo a strict certification process that includes ensuring farming methods meet USDA’s organic standards, documenting soil and water tests, and providing a production plan.”

Why buy Fair Trade tea?

The organic label signifies the purity of the ingredients, the soil in which plants were grown, the water, and an absence of toxic fertilizers and pesticides. The Fair Trade label applies to the workers and their communities. It assures that workers are paid fair wages and treated well and that the communities from which they come receive benefits from the operation.

Products can be both organic and Fair Trade.

The bag…

One more thing to consider, and that’s the bag. A tea bag may not seem like so much to add to the waste in the world, but consider this: there’s also a label that more often than not has colorful (and toxic) ink applied to it — and while your one little tea bag may not be such a huge contribution to waste, if the 7.2 million other people in the world each added their share of little bags, well, you can see where that would go. So get some loose leaf tea and a re-useable tea ball.

Service with love

Plan your own Japanese-style tea ceremony, serving yourself or someone you love a cup of tea, a cup of pure, organic tea grown with love, picked with love and attention, and sold in a locations like Green Box Boutique, where you can be sure we pay attention to the sources and quality of every product sold.

Chocolate: Not always a simple pleasure

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Chocolatl, Aztec for “warm liquid”, takes us back to the origins of a treat that today is a worldwide favorite. The Aztecs learned cultivation of cacao from the Mayans who preceded them. Cacao trees originated in the rainforests of Central America, and chocolate has a 2000 year history with human beings.

The Aztecs maintained huge cacao bean warehouses. The Aztec warrior and ruler, Montezuma, drank 50 cups a day of the “warm liquid” from a golden goblet. When Hernando Cortez, the Spanish general and explorer, arrived in Central America, Montezuma feted him and his troops, introducing them to the Aztecs’ favorite beverage.

Cortez wrote enthusiastically to the Spanish King that “One cup of this precious beverage allows one to walk an entire day without further nourishment”. In this statement are the beginnings of our latter day fascination with the health properties of chocolate. Also thanks to Cortez and the Spanish, we acquired an addictive taste for chocolate combined with sugar, not part of the original Aztec power beverage.

By the late 19th century, the center of cacao bean production moved to the west coast of Africa, which today produces 72% of the beans sold worldwide. By 1980, Côte d’Ivoire/The Ivory Coast took over the lead role in cacao bean production from Ghana. Today the two nations provide 35% and 21% respectively of the world’s supply.

The troubled history and economies of this area, colonized by Europeans, exploited for slaves for the developing United States, and with weak independent states struggling with ethnic diversity, complicate the issues that surround cacao bean production. Corrupt governments tax family farm operations heavily that are already below subsistence level. These governments provide few or no benefits for those tax dollars.

Starving children are lured into or forced into slave labor situations. In some cases, it is simply a reality of the harsh life on family farms in the interior regions of cacao-producing countries that children must work, often tasked with unsafe jobs including handling pesticides and machetes.

Large chocolate companies responding to a worldwide demand for cheap chocolate tended to overlook labor issues until 2002 when public outcry demanded attention to them. In that year, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture investigated the prevalence of child labor in the cocoa industry and found 284,000 children working in hazardous conditions in West Africa. 64% of the children were younger than 14 and 40% of the children were girls. They often began working at 6 AM, worked 12-hour days and were beaten regularly.

An effort Congress initiated in response to that study to apply “slave-free” labels to chocolate that qualified was blocked by lobbyists. Under the Harkin-Engel Protocol, the industry finally agreed to a self-regulating mechanism to reduce or remove the most egregious practices from their supply chain by 2005 and to educate local citizens to the problems inherent in child labor. Some tiny steps resulted, including creation of the ICI, International Chocolate Initiative in 2010, which institutes local social improvement projects. Currently, however, full compliance deadlines are reset (again) for the future, this time, 2020. The bigger problem is that the entire effort is voluntary, and there are no sanctions for non-compliance.

The countries involved with child labor and slavery are:

  • Côte d’Ivoire/The Ivory Coast
  • Ghana
  • Cameroon
  • Benin
  • Burkina Faso
  • Nigeria
  • Togo

US State Department figures today estimate that 10,000 children in the Ivory Coast are victims of slavery or human trafficking. The numbers for children that are subject to “the worst kinds of child labour” reach up to 109,000 (International Labour Rights Forum).

In the last ten years, the Chocolate industry spent $75 million on “activities related to” the reduction of child labour (Responsible Cocoa). The revenue for the chocolate industry in 2010 was $83.2 billion. This means that the industry has invested a mere 1/1000th of its profit in improving working conditions in the countries on which it relies.

The child labor and slavery issues resist resolution due to ongoing war and corruption in the countries at issue and the terrible poverty in which so many live. Often the owners of family farms that use their own children for labor fear that changes in the status quo like sanctions against cacao bean producing countries will only make their situation worse. Lobbyists for the chocolate industry used a similar argument, that legislation in the industry with teeth in it would hurt not help the labor situation in those countries.

Still, it does seem as though the chocolate industry must be held more accountable by external regulation and enforcement. At the very least, much more of the huge industry profit should bypass corrupt local governments and go directly to improving the living conditions of those who produce it.

In the meantime, we do have Fair Trade labels, and what this means is that you can purchase and enjoy chocolate knowing that it was produced sustainably without using child and slave labor. One of our favorite labels is Wei of Chocolate.

Coming soon to a Green Box Boutique near you…organic onesies!

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Babies: Gotta love’em!

Babies. We all love them. That soft, beautiful skin. The fresh smell when you hold a baby close. The sweet smiles. Moms are very familiar with that urge they feel to nurture and protect this tiny, beautiful person, their new baby.

When some of us had babies so many years ago in the 70s, we had just started to become suspicious about our food supply and how it might affect our babies: the pesticides, the additives, the artificial ingredients, the allergens and sugar even making their way into formulas and the baby food in little jars that were such a ubiquitous part of baby-nurturing at that time.

There was a movement toward organic and homemade baby food and a resurgence of interest in breast feeding. Moms of prior generations who raised their kids on commercial baby foods and formula with the understanding it was more healthy than homemade, natural products could possibly be, were bemused and concerned. Today we know there were good reasons in the 70s for new moms (and dads) to be suspicious of those commercial products, and we have many more options.

The case for organic textiles for babies

We have been slower to understand that what we surround our babies with, what touches their skin, is as almost as important as what we feed our babies. Yes, babies have just as many organs inside their bodies with lots of surface area and the capacity to absorb toxins, affecting development and growth and causing disease. But our skin is the largest single organ in our bodies, and it, too, can absorb toxins and allergens.

We are remarkably resilient as human beings, and our health direction, as any chiropractor will say, is toward stasis. We want to be healthy, and so do our babies! So we have an amazing capacity to sluff off the toxins in our food and environment that threaten to overwhelm us. But as moms, we want to hold off that inevitable assault as long as we can for our babies.

And now we know, thanks to the great work of so many committed activists and entrepreneurs, that we need to be as diligent with regard to the materials that touch our babies’ skin as we try to be with what we put in their little bodies.

A new investigation by Greenpeace has found a broad range of hazardous chemicals in children’s clothing and footwear across a number of major clothing brands, including fast fashion, sportswear and luxury brands.

“The study follows several previous investigations published by Greenpeace as part of its Detox campaign, which identified that hazardous chemicals are present in textile and leather products as a result of their use during manufacture. It confirms that the use of hazardous chemicals is still widespread – even during the manufacture of clothes for children and infants.” Greenpeace purchased 82 children’s textile products from 25 countries, tested them and found toxic chemicals above the technical limits of detection used in their study.

So what to do? Today there are great products available at a reasonable cost for your baby so you can keep him or her safe from the onslaught of toxic chemicals a little longer. These products are made from traditional fibers, used for millennia, without toxic dyes. They are likely to be produced sustainably.

Natural Baby Mama provides a very useful synopsis of what goes into conventional clothing and, alternatively, the natural fibers and processes used to produce healthy baby clothing. Her recommendation for the best, safest baby clothing is GOTS certified (Global Organic Textile Standard) cotton or wool.

More information

So in addition to feeding your beautiful little baby the best, healthiest natural food items you can find, if you want to put the best, healthiest fabrics against their skin, take a few moments to familiarize yourself with the informative material in these two links:

Natural Baby Mama

And one more thing…don’t forget the crib mattress and sheets! Your baby spends a lot of sleeping on them.

Business is beautiful: thanks social entrepreneurs!

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We live in exciting times. How do we know? Big data tells us!

Sometimes the numbers and tools that seem so mundane and unexciting are just the things that reveal what is so exciting and beautiful. Love is good business — great phrase, stirring and inspirational words, but it’s numbers that make us aware of the power of those words.

As it does everything else in our contemporary world, data not only tracks but drives social entrepreneurship, a phenomenon which is here to stay.

Data, for example, signalled the need for more education, training and programming to prepare young entrepreneurs to enter this rapidly growing sector of the economy. In 2015, 4 million students earned degrees. Of those 4 million, 55% report that a concern for social causes will influence their job decisions. Some describe “an explosion” in social entrepreneurship programming with 148 program centers across 350 countries. Top business schools offer twice as many classes in not-for-profit management as in 2013.

So what is social entrepreneurship, and how does it differ from traditional not-for-profit service organizations and conventional business models? Social entrepreneurship is about producing a good or service to solve social challenges and issues. Conventional businesses measure success based on profit and returns, but social entrepreneurial businesses also consider their social impact. On the other hand, the financial structure of a business directed toward the social good is at least partially based on the business’ own revenues.

Social entrepreneurship, like crowd funding, evolved in an environment of decreased government funding. In The Power of Unreasonable People, John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan describe three types of social entrepreneurs’ business structures:

  1. Closest to the not-for-profit service organization model, this structure relies on available funds like tax dollars, loans and grants, although it tends to use its resources in more innovative ways, developing more innovative solutions.
  2. This hybrid incorporates profit to sustain its activity along with traditional not-for-profit sources of funding and as a result is better able to withstand market downturns and government cutbacks.
  3. The business model generates its own operating funds through profit but has broader goals than a conventional business.

Data provides lots of information about a social need or issue and the number and location of people affected by that issue. It also allows detailed measurements of how a business impacts the identified issue. Analyzing and determining what to do with data, however, isn’t always so easy. DataKind is one of many institutions and initiatives developing around the world to help businesses drive social change through data harvesting and analysis.

The Social Enterprise Alliance in its Tool Belt section identifies thirty sectors with social entrepreneurial enterprises, from microenterprise development to poverty alleviation and income generation to employment creation, to children and youth education and welfare, to health and nutrition, and many more.

The Great Social Enterprise Census provides us with these fascinating statistics:

  • 90% of these businesses work on domestic issues
    *there is an even mix between profit and not-for-profit businesses
  • Social entrepreneurism is a $300 million per year sector employing 14,000 people in 28 states (analysts point out that survey results are incomplete, and the number is closer to $500 billion, employing 10 million people and making up 3.5% of the GDP)
  • 40% of these businesses have fewer than 5 employees and 8% more than 100 employees
  • 20% impact U.S. economic development, 16% workforce development, 12% energy and environment, 11% education, and 7% work internationally

The most interesting data shows that 60% of these businesses were created in 2006 or later and 29%, almost 1/3, in the last five years since 2011. Social entrepreneurship is a recent and very rapidly growing phenomenon. It is a phenomenon which proves that necessity is the mother of invention with its rapid growth paralleling the Great Recession and significant changes in the U.S. economic climate. And it is a phenomenon that demonstrates what Anne Frank declared, that “people are basically good at heart.”

So data drives this powerful phenomenon, one which harnesses the idealism of young people who want to improve their world. It provides them with the hard information they require for their enterprises. It informs concerned consumers where they can shop. It helps investors understand what kind of capital will help the sector in which they are interested grow. Finally, it helps policymakers determine how to harness and support this energy to accomplish the greatest good.