The following is an excerpt from a Chelsey Klimowicz’s essay “Civic Agriculture, Food Access, and Civic Engagement,” which is based off of a focus group that was conducted with PICA residents. The focus group was held on May 12, 2012 at a picnic table in The Foundational Roots Garden in The Village quarry. The focus group was forty-five minutes and thirty-seven seconds long and consisted of thirteen questions on demographic information, PICA participation, food preferences, civic agricultural practices, and campus involvement.
At PICA, residents take turns cooking vegan and vegetarian meals for one another three nights a week. The use of local and organic produce is encouraged during these weekday community meals. After Saturday workdays in the garden, residents eat a lunch together that is prepared by the Community Meals Coordinator and several residents. Participants explained that they enjoyed community meals because “not only is it good to know that what you are eating has been grown by you and your community, but the meal you are preparing is for your really good friends and people that you care about.” Due to the fact that many of the focus group participants’ meals are cooked by others, there was a debate over how much of participants’ diets were sourced from the PICA garden. Most of the participants agreed that greens, such as kale, could often be found in each meal in the form of a salad. One participant said, “all of my greens and produce come from the garden because I don’t buy any of that. Although it probably is about ten percent of my diet, it’s still invaluable because I don’t have to buy any of my greens and stuff from the market.” This idea seemed to hold true for many of the other participants.
PICA purchased CSA boxes from Farm Fresh To You during the winter quarter, as this season is when the garden is the least productive and additional produce was needed for cooking weekly community meals. Therefore, each participant had first-hand experience with CSAs, as well as opinions on their effectiveness. One participant explained, “I think that CSAs are great, but something that I noticed when we were getting the CSA box was that the produce went bad a lot faster than the produce I got at the farmers’ market.” Another PICA member elaborated on this by stating that the delivery schedule of the particular farm did not match up with the days in which the produce was needed. On the other hand, a different participant said “I think it’s really cool and it shows you what is in season by you and connects you with the farmers that grow it.” This participant enjoyed the variety of produce that came in the CSA box and liked trying to come up with a dish that would utilize the provided ingredients.
Participants told me that they did their personal shopping at a variety of different stores, including: Staff of Life, Trader Joe’s, Food Bin, Kresge Food Co-Op, Safeway, and the farmers’ market downtown. The participant who stated that they shopped at Safeway expressed that they felt that it was the “black thumb” of grocery stores within the PICA community. As far as the farmers’ market, one participant pointed out that “they are for a very privileged select few.” This participant had experience working on a CSA farm noted that “everything at the farmers’ market has to look pristine” and said that they prefer CSAs because it gives the farmers more flexibility with what they can sell. Conversely, other participants saw farmers’ markets as a means of supporting their community and creating a direct connection to growers. One participant explained that she had a relationship with her farmer and could ask them questions, try things, and has been given free fruit for being a regular customer.
In this civic agricultural community, I think it is important to the participants to cook, eat, shop, and garden with each other as a way of forming bonds with their neighbors. The concept of community appeared to be the underlying theme of this focus group. Involvement with local grocery stores, CSA farms, and farmers’ markets seemed to demonstrate PICA members’ feelings responsibility to the greater Santa Cruz community.
My name is Chelsey Klimowicz. I’m a junior transfer living at PICA and this year’s Community Meals Coordinator. I participated in PICA’s Garden Education Internship this spring, where I taught elementary school students from the Pajaro Valley Unified School District lessons on nutrition, the three sisters, and compost. As a sociology major, I have become interested in social issues regarding food access, community development, civic agriculture, and urban self-reliance.