PICA: A CUIP’s Reflections

To everyone reading this article: thank you for being part of the PICA community or being interested enough in it to read the newsletter: our program means something only with context to the people and the systems around it. I very much hope PICA can be relevant to those readers not currently privileged with a garden, strong localized community support, or just means to provide for their own sustenance. The sepulchral absence of culture in conventional agriculture needs a counterpoint, but there is no counterpoint if we are merely a gated community chomping on chard and playing banjo in an institutional microcosm. What is food justice? What are we even trying to sustain anyways?

This is my second year in PICA and my first year in PICA Leadership. I have to admit how strange it is living on campus again and working in the office as PICA’s CUIP (Chancellor’s Undergrauate Intern); my understanding of the program is very different now that I play a role in its continuation. Another, and perhaps more important shift, is that of my own understanding of the world at large. It speaks well for UCSC that despite service cuts, undergraduates can learn enough about law, global politics, and environmental history to re-frame their own role in society.

There is a growing dissatisfaction among undergraduates for environmentalism that focuses only on individuals’ consumptive choices without questioning the inequitable distribution systems that provide (or limit) those choices in the first place. As the social and environmental impacts of the current food system become increasingly visible, the arbitrary distinctions between environmentalists and social justice activists become increasingly meaningless. This shift in thinking is spreading, eclipsing contentment with eco-labels and home compost buckets. People are a part of their ecosystem and our health is directly tied to the land that we grow on; there is something fundamentally wrong with a society that treats fictitious legal entities better than its own people and the earth that feeds them.

It is my sincerest wish to bring the Program in Community and Agroecology closer into contact with the soil outside our greenhouse so that we can learn to germinate in the real world. Competition is a destructive interaction that does not benefit any organism unable to move beyond it, but a resistant/resiliant community is one with broad variations between individuals in a broad swathe of interacting niches. A smart group of people communicates with the other groups of people, especially when they care about a movement that will affect the state of the content on everyone’s plate.

Interact with PICA. Help us build a poly-culture that can support diversity rather than monoculture that requires assimilation into a specific PICA identity. It is always the right time for PICAns to wander out of the Foundational Roots sandbox, but all I can do is leave the gate open. Come over and digaround in the food system with us through academics or Saturday workays. Whether you dig in the literal or metaphysical sense, I promise we know how to share our lunches and will let you play with any of the toys we pull out of the garden shed.

Andrew Holstedt is the PICA program’s illustrious Chancellor’s Undergraduate Intern


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