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CULTIVATING CULTURE

Local gardener helps Muslim families grow food and family.

WRITTEN BY ERIN MEYERING
PHOTOS BY JAMIE KINGHAM  

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You wouldn’t know, if you were to walk around Randy Robison’s property, that his home garden and farm help feed upward of 60 people. It isn’t obvious that he’s growing gourds, nearly 30 varieties of garlic, and rhubarb, or that he’s incubating his own chicken eggs or housing chickens, turkeys, and pheasants, all for members of the Muslim community here in Reno.

And Robison has been doing this for more than 30 years.

Passion for produce

It all started when Robison bought his home in Golden Valley. The seller, a member of the local Muslim community, noticed Robison raised chickens and was an avid gardener. The seller first purchased a few chickens from Robison, but then the relationship grew into a partnership involving other neighboring Muslim families. Robison grew produce and raised specific animals for the families, who then routinely would harvest and slaughter them all themselves, in keeping with their halal methods.

The families purchase animals, seeds, and other items raised on the farm, which include sheep, cows, cabbages, potatoes, and other seasonal vegetables. But Robison’s focus is not on making a profit. Rather, he simply enjoys tending to the crops and animals.

“My passion is watching vegetables grow,” Robison says.

Mohammad Barkat, a local Muslim originally from Bangladesh, became connected to Robison through the property’s original seller. He is one of many who go visit Robison’s farm several times a year to harvest food according to halal religious practices. These include specific rituals for processing animals, which only are allowed to be performed by a Muslim.

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Learning from one another

Although the families and Robison each prepare food in their own ways — using spices and techniques based on their experiences — they have found common ground by sharing culinary knowledge with each other.

“It’s brought our families together and our cultures together,” Robison says.

Among others, Robison has gained an expansion of his own palate. For one, he has started eating potato leaves, something he had never even heard of before.

The participating families also have gained exposure to certain cooking techniques and ingredients from Robison and his wife, Debbie. Barkat is learning to preserve certain vegetables and fruits such as tomatoes and carrots.

“In our culture, we don’t can food,” Barkat says. “I’m learning from Debbie the technique of canning.”

Closer to the earth

Producing food naturally and sustainably, as a community, and simply knowing where food comes from are ideals both Barkat and Robison cherish. That’s why Robison wastes nothing and composts everything he can.

“We should protect this earth,” Barkat says. “We are the only species that can destroy this earth and that can protect it.”

Several times throughout the year, when seasonal produce is ready for harvest and animals are ready for slaughter, the participating Muslim families — men, women, and children alike — join together to reflect on the earth’s ability to give them nourishment through food, and together they celebrate friendship.

Conducting this interview in the sunshine on Robison’s farm inspired writer Erin Meyering. Food, and growing it yourself, is all about sharing an experience and enjoying that nourishment as you connect with and learn from others.

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