World War II had brought in its wake severe food shortage all over the country. For the Salesians of Don Bosco in South India, with a number of orphanages, boarding houses and hostels for poor children, getting enough rice to feed their numerous children was a great challenge. Food grains were rationed and it was not possible to get large quantities of grains to meet the needs of institutions. The situation prompted the Salesians to think about having their own rice fields.

It was in May 1948. The summer was harsh and the fields dry and barren. Fr. Amaladoss Anthonysamy SDB, who was parish priest at Uriyurkuppam, while visiting the villages in the vicinity, came to know that a large stretch of barren land (about 100 acres, in fact), in the village of Pudukesavaram, close to Uriyurkuppam, was on sale. The Provincial, Fr. Joseph Carreño, was informed who called together his council and the decision was taken to purchase all of the 100 acres.The land was registered on 24 May 1948. By the end of the year, another 60 acres were acquired, and then another 49 acres and then 17 more acres were acquired. While the main aim of the purchase was to begin a School of Agriculture, the pioneers hoped that the lands would also supply all the rice the children in their institutions needed.

In 1949, Fr. Angelo Codello, a 36-year-old daring and energetic Italian missionary, who took pride in calling himself ‘a farmer’s son’, was sent there to begin the work. Wells were dug, lands were levelled and the thirsty fields brought under cultivation. Through innovative methods of water conservation and soil management and a lot of hard work, the arid lands started turning lush green and the barren fields began to bloom. The transformation in the landscape was unbelievable and the people began calling it “SamiyarThottam” (Fathers’ Garden), which was soon re-christened as “Sagayathottam” meaning Mary’s Garden (SagayaMatha is a popular title of Mary the Mother of Jesus). Slowly Sagayathottam became a model farm and thedelicious fruits and the nutritious vegetables from there became the talk of the towns and villages all around.

The first harvests were indeed encouraging. Soon godowns were built, tractors, sowing machines, threshing machines, shelling machines, and a host of agricultural implements were acquired. More Salesiansjoined Fr. Codello–Fr. Dabove and Fr. Zocchi, both Italian missionaries, and Br. LudvikZabret, a Slovenian, were among the earliest.They were ably supported by Indian Salesiansamong whom Bro. Chacko Poovakott, Bro. K. M. Mathew, Fr. K. C. George deserve special mention.Today Sagayathottam is a village with its own post office.

In June 1959 a School of Agriculture was opened by the then Minister for Agriculture Thiru. M. Bhaktavatchalam (later Chief Minister) to train poor rural youth in the basics of agriculture. The impact of the Agricultural Training Institute soon began to be felt in the entire district of North Arcot (today’s Vellore and Thiruvannamalai districts). In 1960 the State Deputy Minister for Agriculture, after visiting the farm, left this note in the Visitors’ Book:

“I am delighted to visit this place sanctified by the dedicated work of a band of selfless Christian missionaries…. It tells the story of how a barren and sandy terrain, neglected for decades and written off as hopeless, was transformed into a garden of smiling fields with rich vegetation and golden crops… “

In February 1976 the two-year-long agricultural training given by Sagayathottam was recognized by the government as an Agricultural Demonstration Maestri Course.

In 1988 the agricultural school was upgraded to the Sagayathottam Institute of Agriculture and Rural Development (SIARD), offering students two-year government recognized diploma in Agriculture.

A Home for the orphans and destitute boys was started in 1960. Initially these children attended the nearby school at Uriyurkuppam, and later in the 1990s the Don Bosco High School was begun which was upgraded into Higher Secondary School in 2011.

Don Bosco College of Agriculture

The present College, affiliated to the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), which is rated the best Agricultural University in the country by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), will offer undergraduate courses (B.Sc.) in Agriculture and related fields. It is also intended to be a centre of research and development in agriculture. The college received its first batch of sixty students on 8thSeptember 2014.

Delivering his inaugural address, Fr. Jayapalan described the college as a historic milestone in the annals of the Salesian Province of Chennai, which has always had as one of its main thrusts the empowering of rural youth, particularly the poor ones, through technical education. Today, while India ranks second in the world for farm output, and our agriculture and allied fields account for 50 per cent of the total workforce in the country, the sad fact is that a large percentage of our agricultural workers are unskilled in modern techniques resulting in low productivity. Agricultural training institutes are far below the requirement. This is where, we hope, the Don Bosco College of Agriculture will make a big difference, he said.

The college motto “Labor omnia vincit”, a Latin phrase meaning “hard work overcomes everything”, is from a poem by the Roman poet Virgil (29 BC), who composed it to support and promote Augustus Caesar’s “Back to the Land” campaign designed to encourage Romans to take up agriculture.

The College is a humble tribute to Don Bosco to commemorate the bicentenary of his birth, 1815-2015.