I first walked through the PICA gardens on the midnight of my first night in Santa Cruz. The moon shone down on the full beds and blooming planters, and I stumbled around taking in all the flora visible in the moonlight: High fences rich with hops; stout, alien kale stalks; grape vines; strawberries, and herbs of every scent. I lay in the hammock outside my house in B-quad and couldn’t wait to revisit the gardens the next day. I was already thinking of what I wanted to plant, and, of course, what I could eat.
I had known little about the Program in Community and Agroecology when I applied for residence in the Village. Back in the UK, I had worked with conservation groups and had some farming and gardening experience but I wasn’t really able to combine my passions for sustainable agriculture and political activism with my academic life. I chose to come to Santa Cruz because I had heard of the community’s commitment to sociopolitical issues. I wanted to engage with like-minded people, to hear about the social issues they face and join their actions in solidarity. As I learned more about PICA, I saw just how valuable the program is, not only for the students lucky enough to live here, but for the wider local community. In partnership with the Community and Agroecology Network (CAN) and student groups on campus, PICA empowers individuals with the space and resources to learn about responsible food systems and the sociopolitical issues which surround food production.
The chance to study at a world class university was privilege enough, I believed. I honestly didn’t think I would be accepted into PICA. Surely such an opportunity would be greatly oversubscribed, and I wasn’t even a UC student. But soon, to my great relief, I found myself in the hammock in the Village, looking forward to all that I hoped to explore, taste, and learn of this new country. I really feel as though I have made friends for life during my year with PICA. We learn more from each other, achieve more through co-operation, and at PICA it really shows. Everyone I have met here has such dedication to the Program. They’ll do anything to share what we PICAns have here with as many people as possible. It is endearing to experience the commitment of the PICA community to strengthening their roots and pursuing new endeavors. More than anything, I am blessed to live with so many genuinely happy people. It must be the year-round summer days!
I will never forget my time with PICA. Besides everything that has made my experience in America so unforgettable – the natural diversity and beauty of the land, the abundance of artistic and musical expression of all kinds, the food…, it has been the vibrant, loving family I have found here at PICA that has made my time in Santa Cruz so special. We take so much pride in our home here, and by living together and sharing both the work and rewards, we have become incredibly close. UC Santa Cruz has given me an incredibly stimulating academic experience. PICA has given me the home which supports me, and the opportunity to further my practical knowledge of sustainable agriculture and food activism. I can’t wait to come back and try the honeyberries we planted this year!
Sam Starke is a PICA resident and is often seen happily harvesting in the PICA gardens for that night’s community meal