Teaching Them to Work the Land

It’s been forty years since Nadim Khouri and 25 of his classmates from AUB’s Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences (FAFS) braved snipers and militia checkpoints during the height of the Civil War to travel east to Haush-Sneid in the Beqa’a Valley. Their destination was AUB’s farm-cum-laboratory, the Advancing Research Enabling Communities Center (AREC). “What defined us was our solidarity and anti-war position, in keeping with the spirit of AUB,” says Khouri. He says the group took pride in the fact that its membership reflected Lebanon’s religious and ethnic diversity and that that solidarity deepened as the they were confronted with the new reality of farm life, which meant more responsibility and labor than student life.  

“We were basically asked to help run the farm, under the supervision of teachers and farm staff.” The bleating goats and cows had to be fed, the crops—potatoes, corn, all sorts of green vegetables—had to be planted, monitored, and harvested for the students to eat and to supply local markets and the university cafeteria. “They tasted great! Everything that grows in the Beqa’a is quite good.”   

The farm exposed the students to rural life and modern mechanized agriculture and irrigation techniques at a time (1978) when no other such programs existed in the country. Indeed, AREC remains one of the region’s most storied and comprehensive hands-on agriculture education experiences.  

“I studied soil science,” says Khouri, “I learned to manage land in a way that minimized soil disruption.” He and other students drew up ‘cut and fill’ operations to level the soil and prepare it for irrigation. Yet some of his most memorable experiences were outside his specialization: talking to local farmers or witnessing a difficult calf delivery.  

So profound was the seven-month stay at AREC for Khouri and his classmates that they wanted to support future AREC students. A year after they graduated, the AREC class of 1978 established the AREC ’78 and Friends Endowed Scholarship. 

The endowment is now $55,000 strong and partially supports one student returning from AREC for up two semesters annually. At a recent reunion in June, the group decided to reach at least $100,000 in the next five years. “We’re a small group and we’ve all increased our contributions and hope others will join us too.”  

AREC may be more relevant now than ever in light of climate change and food insecurity. The region needs students who can help farmers and communities adjust to drier, harsher environments and mitigate the growing threat of natural disasters. You can join the class of ’78 in supporting the endowment here.