Our Repats: Taline Kevonian
22 December 2019
Taline Kevonian has experienced Armenia through many lenses: that of a volunteer, tourist, professional, and now: business owner. In every role, the Lebanese-Armenian American has witnessed firsthand the incredible transition the country has undergone since the “dark and cold years” she originally encountered in the nineties. That being said, she recognized that underlying societal challenges aren’t always visible to visitors; from the vantage of cafés and Cascade. Tired of nearly two decades of on-and-off residency, Taline resolved that the next time she returned to Armenia it would be with intention. So, she created her own.
After pursuing an education and career that traversed the globe, it was eventually the “mother of all grains” that brought her back to the motherland: quinoa. After witnessing the ancient Incan staple skyrocket in popularity across North America, she realized that the hand-harvested crop could easily be cultivated by Armenian farmers. With that, the idea for Meline’s Garden took root. Since April 2015, the social enterprise has worked to introduce healthy staples such as quinoa, chia seeds and coconut oil into the local market while empowering marginalized communities in the production process.
Meline’s Garden employs an all-star team of locals: six full-time, and seventy-five seasonal. Breaking traditional agrarian norms, most of them are women! Taline’s mission reflects a key shift in mindset: “why are we always doing something in Armenia and taking it abroad? Why not do something in Armenia, for Armenia.” Small individual contributions, in aggregate, would provide strength behind sustainable, local development.
Having lived in so many different cities - Los Angeles, Paris, São Paulo and Washington D.C. - what is it like living as a repatriate in Armenia? Taline remarks that with its rapidly developing, cosmopolitan capital, “there are times where I feel like Armenia is the center of the world, there’s so much happening!” Though in love with the “A+ lifestyle” afforded here, she’s tired of being labeled an “honorary Hayestansi” by well-meaning locals. It’s high time to bridge the divide between diaspora and non-diasporan; to stop comparing Armenia to other countries and recognize that reconciliation and progress are not going to happen unless both parties are proactive about it.
For Taline, it comes down to this: “you define yourself, not by the environment you’re surrounded by.” If you’re not happy with how things are going, now is the time to do something about it. Talking about it is not going to help, because ultimately: “time doesn’t cause change, actions do.” If you work hard, are consistent, and respect the rules, Armenia is fertile ground to grow something bigger than yourself. After all, “if you were to throw a pebble into Lake Sevan, you would see the ripples a lot further than had you thrown it into the Pacific Ocean.” While it is true that repatriating is not for everyone, it’s equally valid that there’s no “right time” to come - you just have to take the plunge.
Expand your palette by shopping and supporting Meline's Garden, and let’s join our resident Quinoa Queen’s efforts to promote good health in Hayastan!