Youssef Darwich
Grand Valley State University
Major: Natural Resource Management and Plant Biology

Growing up, birds roamed amongst a jungle of cucumbers, grapes, and fruit trees in my  urban backyard. My father would release dozens of pigeons at a time and like magic they would soar above the clouds. The beautiful dance of the pigeons occasionally attracted hawks, who unleashed tremendous speed and power to prey upon any pigeon that missed a step in the choreography. I was able to contemplate and discover my place in the natural world by observing these communities.

As I matured, I realized many others never experience the joy and wonder of growing up and interacting with our fellow species in a rich and diverse environment. At age 16, my father passed, which made me astutely aware our time here on Earth may be temporary but our actions leave legacies which transcend far beyond. Because I understand the benefits I developed while growing up within a rich and diverse environment, I was set on a life-long course to enable others to reap the same richness and satisfaction.

Upon attending Grand Valley, I discovered the Sustainable Agriculture Project (SAP). I started as an enthusiastic volunteer, spreading ideas and positivity throughout the group. As I accrued knowledge I eagerly became to share it with others. While at the SAP, I have had the opportunity to work with, learn from, and teach hundreds of students from all backgrounds and skill levels. Regardless of the incoming level of interest, I have observed countless numbers of people feel a connection to the environment through the simple acts such as planting a seedling or pulling a carrot out of the ground. A particular instance involved the transformation of an inner city child who scoffed at the idea of “eating anything that came from the group” to becoming captivated of life’s processes by holding an earthworm in his hand. There would have been no words I could have said to unlock his curiosity; it was only by giving him the opportunity to experience nature firsthand that he became inspired.

Subsequently, I went on to become President of the Farm Club to continue to promote sustainability at GVSU. I’ve used my position to coordinate with other students in the club to hold several events educational workshops, including: beekeeping, rain barrel installation, vermicomposting, how to start a garden, tree planting and the Growing Connections Food Summit. The goal of all these efforts is to build community and show individuals the ways they can make a positive, meaningful impact in the world.

As I move towards the end of my GVSU career, I often reflect on the legacy I will leave and how I can best enable future students to continue to progress towards a sustainable, personally enriching world. I have decided starting a tree nursery at the SAP is the best way to continue to inspire people in the future. By taking the initiative to start the nursery and showing others how to continue its development, I hope the trees will reach far into the community.

Currently, I have collected hundreds of seeds and have received funding for over 200 seedlings. Selected species include; serviceberries, hazelnuts, chestnuts, persimmions, plums and apple rootstocks for grafting. Grafting, which requires a high level of skill, almost magically fuses two different plants together. In addition to grafting on the rootstocks, I will graft on existing flowering pears and crab apples around campus, with the intent for people to enjoy the fruit for years to come. My time at GVSU may be limited but these trees will continue to impact community long after I’m gone.

Ultimately in my lifetime, I wish to engage and inspire people of the natural world by design the landscapes they interact with on a daily basis. I aim to design areas for economically profitable resource production, community interactions, and personal reflections, all rooted in sound ecological principles. It is my hope that by designing landscapes people interact with, they will become captivated by the natural world, thereby creating a sense of environmental stewardship and enabling future generations to live in a rich and abundant world.

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