Food connects us all. The intricacies of its impact on the environment and people goes beyond the consumptive, especially when realizing the many layers of social, ecological and political needs to address. It can be overwhelming, but I have found resolution in how to face these challenges from living in PICA. The Program in Community Agroecology evolves each year with a regenerative cycle of students participating in experiential learning. At PICA, students play a vital role in achieving a greater connection to their food system by sharing knowledge with the UCSC community with the support and guidance of amazing mentors, Bee, Mira and Jose at the Sustainable Living Center. The garden is a learning tool. Living at PICA has put my studies at UCSC into context, empowering me to attain greater environmental integrity. In a diverse group of students with varied personal backgrounds and major-interests, we live together, fostering pro-community ideals with an emphasis in food and environmentally-conscious life skills.
During a workday, I love to see the trail of individuals entering the Foundational Roots Garden, carrying trays of plant starts, tools, and wheelbarrows full of compost. As the day proceeds, I find myself in and out of various work groups so as to catch snip-its of each. Careful hands sow seeds in propagation, those sifting compost have quick, jagged movements and others are crouched by garden beds planting young starts. As we circle up, I feel a familiar satisfaction and contentment as I see my friends gathered, tired, silly and ready to eat! In each reflection of what was accomplished, we applaud at hard work and many helping hands. We have accomplished so much in our modest garden, which is a step toward greater opportunities in the future. With our collective knowledge we’ll go out into the world, implementing skills and inspirations that were first planted at PICA and have since grown inside us.
Through student facilitated garden work days, collaborative events with other campus organizations, garden market carts, academic courses, internships, and campus outreach and education, PICA has impacted over 4,000 students. What we do at PICA contributes to the larger vision of the UCSC Campus Sustainability Plan. Our compost system engages 150 Village residents, diverting their food waste from landfill and transforming it into soil. The student garden market cart happens several times per quarter in cooperation with other campus gardens, through which PICA strives to make accessible free organic veggies to all UCSC students. Individuals learn tangible gardening skills such as propagation, composting and planting from student leaders within the community, thereby expanding knowledge of agroecology, food systems and self-directed learning.
My peers’ commitment to achieving a more sustainable lifestyle is inspiring to me. In a time of our lives where so much focus and pressure is on individual goals and success, being a part of a meaningful community brings perspective and unity to daily life. I believe the purpose of living in a community is to increase the happiness of others. PICA has granted me a sustainable future through these experiences in college where living in an intentional community has become a model for my life.
About the Author:
Lidia Tropeano is a 2nd year PICAn, Environmental Studies major with an emphasis in Environmental Education and Sustainability, and beet lover! When she’s not speaking Italian she likes to communicate via garden dance moves.