Randolph College's organic garden highlighted in local newspaper
2/23/2009 9:28:24 AM
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The following story was published in the Lynchburg News & Advance on Feb. 22, 2009. It is reprinted with permission.
By Casey Gillis
Shahriar Abbassi tends the chickens in the Randolph College organic garden. Photo by Kim Raff
Shahriar Abbassi’s got the goods, and the chickens in Randolph College’s organic garden know it.
As soon as he nears the bucket where their food is stored, they circle him and the bucket, waiting and occasionally pecking at his shoes and pants.
The real scrambling begins, though, when he starts tossing out handfuls of grain all over their pen.
Every now and then, the rooster — Abbassi calls him Bruce — makes a low, guttural noise that sounds almost like a growl. Abbassi says Bruce does this to let the other three, all hens, know he’s found food.
“I have a hard time coming here and leaving,” says Abbassi, night supervisor of the college’s library and the faculty/staff adviser for the garden. “They’re just so entertaining.”
They also serve many purposes in the garden, which Abbassi and a group of students from the college’s Environmental Club are cultivating, using the principles of something called permaculture.
Basically, it means to design landscapes in ways that mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature.
“Taking advantage of the free services of nature is a big part of permaculture,” Abbassi says.
“You never look at anything as a stand-alone element,” he adds. “Like the chickens. They provide meat. They provide eggs. They give you manure. They till the soil. They’re like tractors; you let them loose, and they dig.”
It’s also economical to raise chickens, he says.
“They eat practically all of your leftover food. (Just) dump it in front of them, and they’ll eat it,” Abbassi says. “Here is your garbage disposal.”
In addition to the grain, they also feed the chickens leftover fruits and vegetables from the college’s dining hall. Cantelope is a particular favorite.
The chickens are just the latest addition to the garden, which Abbassi and students from another club, the Food and Justice Club, began growing on an acre of land in 2003 (the Environmental Club took over a couple years later, when the Food and Justice Club folded).
Before they dug in, it was an overgrown hillside and dumping place for old soccer and lacrosse goals.
It’s been a gradual process since then, with the students doing most of the work during the summer.
That first summer was spent clearing out the land, and over the past five years, they’ve grown a variety of vegetables, herbs, spices and wild flowers.
“Now it’s at a point that it can be fully cultivated,” Abassi says. “We have high hopes for it.”
For now, the students and Abbassi take home what they grow, but they’d eventually like to work out some kind of deal to provide food to the dining hall.
They’re currently growing onions, garlic and some smaller plants in a small, fenced-in area, with the chickens’ pen inside of it. Some raspberry and blackberry bushes grow nearby on the outskirts of the land.
Students have also built a small fire pit, surrounded by chair
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