After graduating from Lehigh with a degree in environmental engineering, Christopher West ’08 embarked upon a career one might expect of an aspiring environmental engineer – first in the private sector, and then in the public sector for Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Feeling unfulfilled after several years, Chris literally went west, taking some time backpacking throughout several Western states, the age-old tale of a young man in search of his dreams. And when he found them, West headed back east and dug in with a new passion for sustainable agriculture.
In April 2013, West began working as an intern at the Rodale Institute’s Agriculture Supported Communities in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. At the Rodale Institute, West began to learn about all aspects of sustainable agriculture. Later that year, West opened his own Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm in Bethlehem, the Bethlehem’s Bounty CSA, bringing sustainably grown, healthy food to the community in the 2014 season.
"I love agriculture, ecology, biology and water management," said West. "I started farming for a number reasons, one being the type of people who are attracted to the work; they are stewards of the land and the foundation a country depends upon. Additionally, I take solace in the fact that I can feed my neighbors and transmogrify with the rhythms of nature."
At Rodale Institute, West took classes about soil micro-biology, compost, compost tea, organic certification and livestock husbandry to understand the concepts involved in sustainable agriculture. Chris created a personalized business plan with Lehigh University’s Innovation and Leadership Residency (ILR) group regarding bringing an organic garden to the Bethlehem area.
"I started small as I only have a few years of experience," West explained. "Lehigh’s ILR offered a good insight into what it actually takes to starting a business; however, you don't really know what the experience is going to be like until you actually go and do it."
"I want to offer my customers the highest quality and a large variety of produce they don't typically see on grocery store shelves."
In his free time, West has recently helped the non-profit the Friends of Johnston initiate the conversion of a conventionally-grown cornfield into a community park and nature-based education center for local students and the disabled.
Bethlehem’s Bounty CSA is opening for its second year, and West is hopeful for its future. The farm is expanding, with a growing list of community members waiting to join. For more information, contact Chris via his website at Bethlehem’s Bounty CSA.
-Talia Dunyak '16 is a writer with the Dean’s Office of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science.