Chad Marvin, MA SID'22

Chad Marvin, MA SID'22

“Environmental justice reflects an equal respect for all forms of life. It means recognizing the ways that our society places disproportionate burdens on people of color and our environment, and creating a new system of living that rectifies these issues,” says Chad Marvin, MA SID’22, such as training workers in the fossil fuel industry to operate solar and wind farms, protecting low-income residents from downstream pollution, and ensuring access to affordable healthy food in all communities.

Marvin wasn’t always so attuned to the importance of sustainable agriculture and environmental justice. As a boy growing up in Queens, New York, and then Long Island, he was overweight and sickly, often in and out of hospitals. In his teenage years, he felt frustrated and started watching documentaries on industrial agriculture. He was horrified by what he saw, so he became a vegetarian and started to work at local community gardens and farms. 

At Stony Brook University, he studied environmental humanities and continued his exploration of sustainable agricultural practices. He interned for a not-for-profit, iEat Green, which held farm-to-table gardening classes for youth communities in food desert areas of New York. He also studied abroad in Costa Rica on an off-the-grid farm that taught principles of organic agriculture, called permaculture, and earned a certificate in permaculture design. Back in New York, he continued his work in permaculture, and eventually was hired to run the hydroponic farm at his university. 

“It was called a freight farm, an upcycled shipping container equipped with piping for irrigation and vertically stacked towers to plant within. In a four-week span, you can have 6,000-8,000 heads of lettuce or mature herbs to give to the dining halls thus creating a local food source,” he says. 

After graduating from Stony Brook, Marvin joined the Peace Corps in Guinea, West Africa, as an agroforestry volunteer. He lived and worked in a community that is the country's second largest commercial agricultural producer. His project was creating mixed tree nurseries, planting a total of 6,500 trees. Marvin also demonstrated how to grow cash crops, such as watermelon, carrots and bell peppers. In addition, he worked with beekeepers to introduce more sustainable beekeeping practices.

Marvin also immersed himself in local Fulani culture. “That was a Peace Corps goal that I felt would be critical to the success of my work while also assuring that I was always able to act respectfully in a new culture,” he says. Once a month, he traveled five hours north to a museum to learn more about the local language, Pular, and history of the ethnic group he was living amongst, the Fulani. He and the director connected over a shared love of poetry, and he even started writing poetry in the Pular and sharing with a writer’s group at the museum. “It was a revelation to process abstract ideas in a different language and still have the same distinctive feeling of community that exists among artists.”

As his time in the Peace Corps came to an end, Marvin decided to apply for an extension to work with the museum and a nearby botanical garden, planting native tree species at the garden to bring to schools to plant with students while talking about climate change. 

“My goal is to have a human-based approach to solving environmental problems,” he says. “Climate change is creating huge problems for subsistence farmers, because it shortens growing seasons. At the same time the increased poverty that this is creating is changing the access that Guinean children have to go to school, because they need to help longer in the fields. Any real plan to address climate change has to also address these critical problems.” 

Unfortunately, just two months into his extension program, Marvin was evacuated when COVID-19 caused the Peace Corps to withdraw its volunteers across the globe. 

He took the opportunity to look into graduate programs, and came across a Heller post on a returned Peace Corps volunteers Facebook page. 

“I knew I wanted to be globally focused and I saw Heller’s core values of looking into the root causes of social justice and inequality and where poverty comes from,” says Marvin, who is a Jake Jagoda Memorial Endowment Recipient. “I loved it. Now that we’ve started classes, everyone has such great insights. The best moments of my day are in Heller classes, where I get to hear new insights from the professors and of course my fellow students, who all have such amazing perspectives. It is such a good space to be in.”