DEGREE: B.S. in environmental studies (self-designed, a hybrid between philosophy and science and focused on sustainable agriculture); certificate, agroecology graduate program, University of Santa Cruz in California
JOB TITLE: Owner/founder, Firepot Nomadic Teas
FAVORITE TRINITY MEMORY: Coming from the South [Tennessee], it was an amazing opportunity to explore New England. I loved waking up early my freshman year to spend time rowing on the river and going to the Head of the Charles in Boston, driving to the Berkshires in the fall to hike and pick apples, skiing in Vermont and Maine in the winter, and taking the train to New York City on the weekends.
What led to your interest in tea? I have always had an affinity for plants and worked in sustainable agriculture and on organic farms in California and Montana after graduating from Trinity in 1997. In 2001, I worked at a Tibetan teahouse in Bozeman, Montana, where I learned how to make an authentic North Indian chai. When the teahouse closed, I tweaked the recipe, called it Firepot Chai, and committed the business to improving the lives of women around the world through ethical trade and sustainable agriculture.
What do you enjoy most about your work? I love the satisfaction of building a business that supports women and sustainability. That has been my goal from the beginning, so to see it take shape is exciting. This might go without saying, but I also really love working with tea. Not only has it given me a creative outlet, a healthy lifestyle, and meaningful work, but it also has opened the world up to me in a way that I never could have imagined 18 years ago. I am incredibly thankful to have a global community of tea growers, producers, and friends who have so much respect for this ancient, healthy, and culturally significant plant!
A portion of your sales supports improving the lives of women around the world through sustainable agriculture. Why this cause? There are two pieces to our mission: supporting women and protecting our planet. I grew up spending summers at my grandparents’ off-the-grid cottage in Finland, which gave me an intimate relationship to and a great appreciation for our natural world; hence the desire to protect it. The commitment to women comes from seeing the discrepancy between the quality of life in communities where women and girls do not have opportunity versus in those in which they do. When girls are educated and women have choices, quality of life increases across the board. We currently have a partnership with Akilah Institute, a woman’s university in Rwanda, where we buy black tea for chai. Akilah is educating Africa’s female leaders to solve the world’s most pressing problems. This work has a ripple effect.
How did Trinity prepare you for the work you do? Trinity allowed me the flexibility to pursue an alternative track and to think outside the box. I enrolled in courses and completed research at three other universities all while working toward my degree at Trinity and was able to graduate in four years with the skills I needed to do what I loved.
What was the most memorable course you took at Trinity? I have a few! I took a course on the Transcendentalist poets Emerson and Thoreau. It was my favorite. I felt for the first time understood and in community with these poets who came before me. I also loved African studies. I remember poring over the map of Africa and immersing in stories of the history and trade of the continent.