The Farms

Freshwater pearls are mostly grown in man-made bodies of fresh water in China. The ease of freshwater pearl farming allows not only large corporations but also families to enter the business. There are no current statistics on the total number of farms in China, but thousands are in operation.

A small family farm in Shanxiahu, China

Chinese pearl farmers are very resourceful and use everything at their disposal to grow pearls. Whereas most saltwater farming operations own specialized rafts, boats, baskets and buoys, freshwater pearl farms in China often operate with just bamboo sticks, ropes and empty soda bottles for buoys.

The pearls lines are suspended from ropes kept afloat with empty soda bottles

Family farms commonly act as intermediaries in the pearl growth process. They may rent their land or buy shells that have already been grafted, then tend to them for two to seven years as the pearls grow. They might then sell the crop to pearl brokers and processing factories before the shells are even opened.

Many farmers sell their pearl mussels before the pearls are harvested

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