Chef assistant raises chickens, supports local, sustainable food

Andrea Randolph sitting with chickens and a peacock

Andrea Randolph

For Andrea Randolph, raising chickens doesn't just mean fresh eggs - it means family bonding.

In 1997, Randolph and her two young children started raising chickens for a 4-H project. 4-H, a youth development organization run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, promotes responsible, hands-on learning.

For the 4-H livestock programs, "the idea is that the child learns to care for the animal," Randolph explains. Each child has to show their animal in a competition, then "sell it and learn to say goodbye to what they have raised," she says.

But Randolph's children fell in love with their new pets, even after the project was over. "The kids would sit out in the coop, and the chickens came right up to them," she says.

Too hard to say goodbye

So, when it came time to sell the chickens, the Randolphs just couldn't say goodbye.

Sixteen years later, Randolph's children may have flown the coop, but the chickens haven't. Twenty chickens roam freely across Randolph's 10-acre property in Manchester every day and nest in their chicken coop every night.

Randolph's refrigerator is stacked from top to bottom with eggs, all of them individually labeled with the date she collected them. Randolph says a huge bonus to raising chickens is gathering the eggs. "You don't have to go to the store, and you know where you're getting them from," she says.

Chickens, peacocks and ducks galore

She also raises a pair of mating peacocks, a gift from her father 10 years ago, along with Rouen, Buff Runner and Peking ducks.

Randolph grew up on a farm, and her passion for local, sustainable food carries over to her workplace. As chef assistant at East Quad Dining Hall, Randolph says the dining hall's focus on local, organic, and sustainable food drew her to the newly renovated East Quad in the first place. East Quad also promotes vegan and vegetarian food and serves gluten-free pizza in order to accommodate every student's nutritional needs and preferences.

Making a difference in a high-pressure kitchen environment

Randolph and other East Quad employees manage a wide variety of food stations, including Wildfire (grill), 24 Carrots (vegetarian), Church Street Deli (sandwiches) and Pizziti. The kitchen can be a high-pressure environment, with Randolph's days starting at 6:30 a.m. and ending at 3 p.m., or later. Randolph says the knowledge that she is making a difference for students keeps her motivated.

"Students are away from home and trying to study. At least they can come eat here and have a decent meal. Finding a good meal shouldn't be their priority; the priority is their education," she says. At East Quad Dining, students are both customers and service workers, and Randolph says "chit-chatting" with students helps make each day fun.

Randolph discovered her love for cooking as a child helping her mom in the kitchen. In her 23 years at U-M, she worked at Martha Cook Residence Hall and pre-renovation East Quad, before returning to the newly renovated space.

When Randolph is not working or taking care of the chickens, she often spends her free time knitting hats and scarves, spinning local wool and weaving.

By Erika Nestor
Reprinted with permission of The University Record,