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Springfield-based tea company brews plans for growth

Raj Vable, left, with tea farmers in northern India
Young Mountain Tea
Raj Vable, left, with tea farmers in northern India

Springfield’s Young Mountain Tea recently secured over a million dollars in funding, and plans to expand locally and overseas. KLCC learned details about the socially-driven company.

While on a Fulbright Fellowship in 2013, Raj Vable calculated that tea farmers in northern India earned 10 cents per pound of leaves and the factory sold a pound for eight dollars, or eight thousand percent more. He promised to change that.

He told KLCC, “The idea is that tea is a lucrative crop, or it can be a lucrative crop, if the farmers don’t just harvest the tea bush, but rather participate in the value chain.”

It’s taken nine years and some complicated legal work, but Young Mountain Tea is set to build a farmer-owned factory. “Next April we should have delicious, exciting new teas that are supporting small farmers," Vable said, "and we’ll be excited to bring them into the U.S. and share them with everybody who wants to drink them.”

Vable said the facility will process 75,000 pounds of tea per year, enough to sustain a village of a couple hundred people.

To accommodate the growth, the company, which had been selling loose tea, recently started producing fully compostable tea bags— a necessity for the U.S. market.

The Springfield-based business employs five people, but Vable expects the U.S. presence to grow as well. Young Mountain currently has five growing regions in northern India and Nepal, and he’d like to replicate the model in other places around the world. Vable also hopes the lessons they’ve learned setting up the entities required to get the factory running can be passed along to others in sustainable agriculture.

Karen Richards joined KLCC as a volunteer reporter in 2012, and became a freelance reporter at the station in 2015. In addition to news reporting, she’s contributed to several feature series for the station, earning multiple awards for her reporting.