The bamboo for our straws is grown on a farm in northern Vietnam, and the straws produced in a nearby local workshop. The workshop began by making other bamboo products for the local market, such as baskets and chopsticks, but they soon jumped at the opportunity of making bamboo straws when they realised how easily the whole stalks of bamboo could be cut to length to make drinking straws.
Hon Mu farm is situated in Thanh Hoa province in the north of Vietnam not too far from the capital of Hanoi. Here the groves of Schizostachyum bamboo are right at home in the humid climate and seasonal downpours. Schizostachyum is a clumping and sometimes climbing species of bamboo, common in south east Asia. The species gets its name from the Greek 'schistos' (cleft) and 'stachys' (spike), referring to the spacing of spikelets.
They propagate rapidly, aided by selective hand-harvesting when the stalks reach the right length and width. Selective harvesting of the right size bamboo from different clumps instead of block harvesting allows the existing clump structure to proliferate, much like the pruning of a herb bush.
These cut stalks are then stacked in bundles to cure in the sun, or if one of the rain storms that are so familiar to the area is in progress, the bundles packed in the smoke house and cured with smoke from a wood fire. Opening a box of straws that have been smoke-cured is a wonderful experience, as the comforting smell transports you right to the workshop itself. The process is 100% natural and no harmful chemicals are used (no anti-mould agent, dyes or bleach).
Once cured, the straws are cut to length with a circular saw and the centers cleaned out with a wire brush. The openings are filed clean and the length of the straw is given a quick pass with fine sandpaper to ensure a smooth finish.
The harvesting on the farm and the production in the workshop employs local people in a rural part of Vietnam where not many employment opportunities are available. Bamboo work like this has been part of the culture in this area for ages, and the skills have been handed down through generations. This work not only ensures sustainable use of a fast growing plant species, but also provides an income for local families in the area.