Final Harvest: Thoughts from a Departing PICAn

The Program In Community and Agroecology has been a slippery thing to explain to those who ask me, “So, what is PICA?” My response, never exceedingly certain, is usually, “It’s a community development program.” And from there, it blasts off into what typically becomes a pretty cool conversation in which tolerance is the anchor; such is the way of community, such is the way of sustainability.

But wow, what does that word, sustainability, even mean? It’s a question that I had when I began living here a year and a half ago, and one that still has me probing around out of interest. I moved into the program after living in Portland, Oregon for almost a year, playing music and earning my living by working with coffee. I was surrounded by a city of citizens that embraced the importance of using lawn space for food space. In short, it was a city of activists. “We,” “us,” “our;” these words are easily paraded, and they kick off challenging questions for people living in large, modern societies. When societies turn “we” into an act, the overall appeal of the community definitely shows, at least in the case of Portland- it is a place where civic pride and duty yield a clean and efficient environment. What I have learned in PICA, if I was to give an answer to my own initial question, is that “we” and “me” mean the same thing in the context of a community. Maintaining awareness of the community and your place in it, something that requires discipline and compassion, is sustainable living.

The many events and conversations that I have had the privilege of sharing with my peers in PICA have been invaluable. Our “Sustainability Lore” group has created a new space for doing cultural studies; the many workshops hosted by enthusiasts and experienced practitioners alike, sharing such skills as cooking and pruning, have continued to activate students’ sense of independence; the community meals, cooked by many different personalities and backgrounds, have glued this program together, while also providing economic relief to students that are trying to save money. The ritualistic kitchen parties with tea and Beckman’s bread, the nights circled around The Settlers of Catan, hikes to Pogonip, building scarecrows, working in the garden, lunch after working in the garden, the Condor’s Hope retreat, working on the Shumei farm, hunting for mushrooms, and dodging runaway bolas; these are each a different story deposited to my skull bank to be played out and re-lived in the future, most likely  when I least expect it.

There is no one way to define PICA, because it is as scientific as it is spiritual, social as it is ecological. The learning that I have been able to be a part of in the Lower Quarry will be with me for life, and I consider my time here to be a significant bookmark. To my peers in PICA, I extend hearty gratitude for the teaching that they have given me, as well as for their genuine interest in my own offerings. Cheers, gang.

John Bruce
PICA Events Coordinator and recent graduate of the PICA Program

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