Down in this beautiful hole in the Earth, we grow food that satiates the tastes of the most discerning student gardeners. In this ever-flowing harvest, the importance of the community’s labor is clear. Weeds, mulch, and the musky piles of compost will not tend themselves! As we enjoyably exploit our labor at least weekly, it is evident that we are not alienated from our efforts. Even the most casual of personal forays through the rows yields ripe rewards- if a closely observing pace is practiced. Therefore, community meals are a means of interacting with the garden’s production, and one of the many modes of bolstering togetherness here in this semi-intentional housing arrangement: A togetherness not only between each other, but also among the myriad living systems which surround us. But who benefits from this togetherness?
Further, a question of access inevitably arises in on-campus sustainability discussions, and if not within particular circles, then it should. Amid personal yearning for greater change-making, it is necessary to clearly delineate who receives a disproportionate distribution of benefits within these student-funded projects. As a part of PICA Leadership, and such role’s associated presumptions, it is a personal duty to imagine new ways of incorporating the interests and needs of others in garden planning and work. From this position is where I begin my analysis. The issue of attracting more students to this themed housing option comes up against several debilitating assumptions. I will touch upon the two that are perhaps most intertwined and pronounced in my past year of serving the community.
The first is that what we (as a representative part of the UCSC sustainability community whether each theme-associated community member realizes this or not) have to offer in terms of educational opportunities will convince people to make better, supposedly healthier choices for themselves as well as the ecosystem. Rather, welcoming non-affiliated students and workday guests to an open dialectic casually yet critically illustrating exclusionary veneers of privilege (that some appear to have grown accustom to looking through to some imaginary grain of effective social change in singularly-faceted action) is a means of shaping this uniquely edible place into a space for all. Moreover, why table at the same events for the same people? One need only to look within the garden to see that this obviously hasn’t led to the garden’s benefit. In example, increased paid work to counter weeds is the cumulative result of myriad factors, including the dropping of ENVS 91F/191F (PICA Seminar) but for Fall quarter. That appears ironic for such a community as PICA, which essentially aims to revolutionize the idea of “community supported agriculture” with that of “agriculture supported community” in a more explicit, albeit merely flipped, acknowledgment of agroecological horticulture and humanity’s interactive dependence upon food systems- not merely as a sustained relic of a yeoman Pastoral Myth.
Second, outreach projects are similarly oriented around the notion of “If only they knew…” thereby simultaneously assuming that everyone has an internalized striving for sustainable living somewhere deep within an esoteric conception of Self, and that PICA is something the student body not only needs, but unknowingly wants amid frequent low inter- and even intra-community engagement. I understand the principle behind leading a sustainability movement as a campus in figurehead projects like campus gardens, but it is a duty of fee-use to represent the present interest of students. The results of the GROW measure serve as a gauge to student body interest in these gardens as projects toward sustainability and alternative notions of healthy living (Yes: 48.17%, No: 51.83%, Undergraduate turnout: 23.67%). It presents an eye-opening metric to not only student interest in effectuating on-campus change (via voting in general), but also indirectly shows if these campus gardens are already a legitimate application of student fees (as presently via other student measures). All in all, a sense of malaise and uncertainty is palpable in the student body and student gardeners respectively.
If anything, PICA’s role within the sustainability community must be fostering open forums in which it is clear that the very nature of discussing issues of race, class, sex or gender do not make one necessarily racist, dissociatively privileged, sexist nor intolerant. This is the nature of functional community: not a problem-free close habitation, but one in which personal troubles are appropriately contextualized and addressed in broader issues so as to positively and diffusely contribute to each member’s personal interests. However, the ability to hold such open lines of communication between varied stakeholders is unto itself a demonstration of embodied privilege: Lest we forget how beautiful it is to pursue education, especially here (amid the student gardens in all subjective honestly)! Social and environmental justice herein are key to establishing agroecological horticulture with real democratic efficacy unto the student body at large. While UCSC is arguably the most liberal UC today in terms of modern political ideologies, these subjects remain controversial, and are thus summarily avoided. The sense of togetherness that is commonly expressed as bringing housemates together within PICA needs to be widened to incorporate those who would otherwise turn away from market carts and fliers. While traditional modes of outreach have proven to be marginally successful uses of time (as paid hours), ultimately, PICAns must at the very least keep in mind for whom projects like campus gardens (around which this themed-housing is principally centered) are created, and socially and fiscally sustained. Rather than serve as a site for mere observation of biological processes, PICA holds the necessary potential to actively engage the above interdisciplinary issues, and create a truly functional community.
About the Author:
PICA Propagation Coordniator,
Sociology and Environmental Studies