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KLCC's Oregon Rainmakers: Raj Vable, Founder, Young Mountain Tea

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Raj Vable

Oregon Rainmakers

A conversation with Raj Vable, Founder of Young Mountain Tea, and Michael Dunne

We started Young Mountain with a promise. A promise to Indian cooperative farmers that if they would grow tea, we would sell it.
Raj Vable

For Raj Vable, founder of Springfield-based Young Mountain Tea, his early interests were music... not tea. “I knew I would never be a big star, but music brought me into sound engineering which led to electrical engineering at the University of Michigan,” he said. While he thrived in that course of study, he also knew he wanted to do something with more connection to the environment and people.

That desire led him to his mother’s village in India where he saw firsthand how he might develop a connection to sustainable farming and economic prosperity for a marginalized community.

“I saw the effects of urban migration, with the region’s youth fleeing to the cities in search of career opportunities, and the once-rich farmland was slowly becoming unstable, triggering landslides during the monsoons.”

Vable saw how the remaining villagers were skilled growers, living vibrant lives through subsistence farming. Local farmers were interested in reviving abandoned tea gardens, while the American specialty tea market was simultaneously taking off. With the potential for high-end Indian tea largely untapped, there seemed to be a widening hole in the market that could be filled by smaller growers. And that’s when the idea that would later become Young Mountain Tea was sparked.

It was a steep learning curve. It was learning as we go, which embodies the entrepreneurial spirit.”

Today, Young Mountain sells world-class teas, but also helps promote economic viability and environmental sustainability in the Kumaon region.

In the near future, Young Mountain will collaborate in North India to get a new factory up-and-running. Soon, tea farmers in the Kumaon village of Champawat, 90% of whom are women, will launch their region’s first community-owned tea factory. This factory will be a blueprint for a model of sustainable change in the tea industry—first in Champawat, then across Kumaon, and eventually throughout the Himalayas and the world.

Michael Dunne is the host of KLCC's Oregon Rainmakers podcast. Do you have a suggestion for an Oregon Rainmaker's guest or topic? Email Michael at mdunne@klcc.org.