Danielle Robinson '10 prepares soil for planting.
Tucked on a small plot of land in the woods behind campus, Randolph College’s organic garden is a testament to perseverance— and to passion. Just a few years ago, the area resembled an overgrown dump site. Today, it serves as a learning laboratory and showcase for what a community with a shared drive can create.
The peaceful area teems with life—of both the animal and human variety—although the centerpiece is clearly the student-built chicken coop that is home to more than 50 hens and roosters. During the spring, summer, and fall months, the organic garden produces a variety of crops including vegetables, herbs, and fruits. Students often make their way to the garden, which is located on a woody hillside near the Maier Museum, to work in the garden or sit and relax in the quiet.
“The organic garden is an important part of Randolph College because it is a real life application of many of the principles of economics, sustainable development, social science, philosophy, and politics we learn in class,” said Ludovic Lemaitre ’11, one of the student leaders.
For Louise Searle ’12, the organic garden is a sanctuary and a respite from everyday stress. “For me, it’s a place to get away from the built environment on campus,” she said. “It’s very relaxing to sit in silence or lie in the grass and watch the chickens, or to just put my hands in the dirt. It’s a different kind of classroom.”
The idea for the organic garden began in 1998, but it was not until 2003 that work slowly began to provide tangible results. During the past few years, student interest has created a surge in activity at the garden. During the summer, students participating in a summer internship with the organic garden built a chicken coop, dug a pond, and created several gardening projects testing new cultivation techniques. On a daily basis, students feed the chickens (using leftovers from the Dining Hall) and collect eggs.
The students, who are members of the Food and Justice Club, work regularly with staff and faculty members as well as Lynchburg community members to learn permaculture and indigenous principles and practices. They have also begun holding workshops to teach these organic gardening methods to the public.
“The organic garden aims to demonstrate a possible example of a communitybased, sustainable future,” said Shahriar Abbassi, staff advisor to the student club.
Students have great plans for the organic garden and have already begun construction on a new greenhouse. Katherine Turner ’13 is an active member of the club and often spends her free time at the garden. “I am so impressed by everything students have done over the past few years,” she said. “It is truly amazing.”
The garden has also created a community center for students, who gravitate to the space for cook-outs, discussions, and just to be with one another. In a world where many are constantly connected to computers and technology, a break to enjoy and appreciate nature is important. “This is a great way for students to emotionally and physically refresh themselves while feeling highly productive,” Abbassi said. “Gardening by its very nature is creative, and students who play a role in the miraculous cycle of seed to fruit to seed partake of an experience that has a positive, lasting effect on the rest of their lives and long after they have left the College.”
For students, watching the transformation of the organic garden has been more rewarding than anything else. “It is not just a place to work,” said Karl Sakas ’10, one of the student leaders who has helped bring the garden back to life. “It is a place to gather and get together.”