I had never considered that agriculture was something we ought to consider a human impact
Andrew Chahrour '06 has a morning commute many would envy.
After finishing his usual breakfast of greens and eggs, downing a cup of coffee and saying goodbye to his wife, Alexandra Madsen '08, Chahrour heads out the back door and begins his half-mile hike into the hills, never touching pavement on his way to the nonprofit farm and orchard above the San Francisco Bay that he manages.
The farm is small — just 5 acres — but its size belies its rich biodiversity. Chahrour believes it might contain the most diverse assemblage of certified organic fruit-bearing shrubs and trees in North America.
"You name it, we probably have more than one variety," Chahrour muses. "We have 57 varieties of figs, 62 varieties of pomegranates, plums, apricots, peaches, apples, pears, persimmons, walnuts — it's an incredibly diverse collection."
The farm is one of five programs of Planting Justice, an environmental and social justice nonprofit Chahrour joined as the fourth member in 2010. (It now employs 41.) Many of the trees Chahrour and his team have planted are still maturing, but already he's making cuttings that can be cloned in a nursery and eventually sold for $60 each. The farm will also supply local farm-to-table restaurants and provide produce for community-supported-agriculture (CSA) programs. Chahrour hopes it eventually will even serve as an incubator for food-based small businesses. Those efforts will support Planting Justice's education, empowerment and outreach initiatives.
"We're working on improving a food system that is broken," Chahrour says.
The organization views food as a medium for interacting with the public school and prison systems. It has created an edible garden inside San Quentin Prison and employs 14 people who were once inmates there — all of whom now earn at least $20 an hour. Planting Justice also runs an education and after-school program in low-income school districts that has developed a 15-week curriculum, as well as campus outreach and fundraising efforts.
At Bucknell, Chahrour majored in environmental science and was in the Environmental Residential College. He says a Residential College seminar taught by Professor Ben Marsh P'04, geography, offered an early epiphany about conventional agriculture — a field for which his current work offers an alternative.
"I had never considered that agriculture was something we ought to consider a human impact," says Chahrour, who grew up in the exurbs of Cincinnati, Ohio. "In conventional agriculture there is clear-cutting and leveling and straightening of creeks — I had never thought about any of that. It opened my eyes to one of the most prominent land uses in the landscape that I knew best but had never really investigated."
Besides his work with Planting Justice, Chahrour is a partner in Wild and Radish LLC, a collective that owns the land the farm sits on (which it leases to Planting Justice for $1 a year) as well as several acres the group hopes to develop into a sustainable-housing community. Andrew and Alex live in the first of four homes planned for 1 acre of their property. He also runs an online retail business, Clean Water Components, which sells equipment for reusing "gray" water produced by domestic activities such as showering and laundry for landscape and garden irrigation.
"I'm inspired and instructed by nature all the time," Chahrour says. "It feels like a calling, really, to be involved in a movement that is uplifting both the environment and the people in it."