Category Archives: Fall 2011

The Magic of PICA

This year at PICA has been wonderful so far. It is quite an amazing experience to have such a connected community within the PICA residents. Within the first two weeks of moving in, our nights were already filled with music circles and uproarious laughter! This merriment is still evident among us PICA’ns especially during one of our popular community meals nights (or what I like to call “family meal night”). We have also quickly discovered how wonderful it is to have such an edenic garden as our own backyard. PICA students found delight in wandering through the Foundational Roots Garden with the open opportunity to pick from the seasonal abundance of juicy apples and sweet ruby raspberries.

To top it all off, the whole PICA crew went on a camping trip to Big Basin in the beginning of the quarter and it was quite a hoot! Although we only spent one night there, we packed in setting up, eating, fireside storytelling, smores, and an epic ten-mile hike at 5 in the morning all in two days! Many thanks to Mira Michelle and Bethany Hecht for making it all happen!

The first Saturday Workday was amazing. The day was colored by an abundance of students, food and garden fun! There was quite a turnout of people, and we exceeded what we had expected to accomplish in the garden and propagation area!  Since then, we knew we had to double dig as many beds as we could before the early rains came, and over the first several weeks we finished just in time! It was a challenge to start off the year with part of our leadership team missing, but thankfully we recently recruited our compost coordinator (Kai Lewis), Saturday workday meals coordinator (Loren), weekday meals coordinator (Forrest  Verde-Green), and events coordinator(Lydia) to complete our crew.

The PICA garden is not just about performing tasks in order to augment and beautify the garden, it is there both as a learning tool and as a means to strengthen our community.

Be it on the Saturday Workday or the Thursday Seminar, there is a certain kind of unexplainable magic about sitting with three other people, planting collard starts, or turning a warm pile of compost with the crimson sunset beside us,and a hot delicious meal awaiting us. Most importantly, the magic is in establishing meaningful connections with each other through our collective learning, our common college experience, and our common human experience. The Sustainable Living Center provides a space for this magic to exist in abundance, and I am forever grateful to be a part of such a program.

Sheila Coll is PICA’s Propagation Coordinator extraordinaire and a Leadership Team member


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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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Cultivating a sea change from the ground up

PICA has gotten off to a wonderful start this year. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost winter break, given all of the fantastic things that the PICA residential community has fit in to the last 2 months! Even before move-in happened, the staff and a couple of returning PICAns from last year began planning how best to help cultivate a strong community of sustainably-minded students from the ground up. Starting right at the beginning of Fall quarter, new PICAns were welcomed, in true PICA style, with a home-cooked Welcome Dinner full of wonderful food and the start of many great friendships and conversations to come. The next day, almost the entire PICA residential community, 32 students in all, were lead by Mira Michelle, PICA’s Residential Coordinator, on a retreat to Big Basin, with the goal of building community, visioning what they want their community to be, and having an awesome time together in the wondrous forest. All of this was accomplished and so much more. The students came back with a new sense of community, an understanding of what the PICA program is about, and a true grasp of the fact that the PICA community truly is what you make it.

Thanks to the talents of an amazing group of students who comprise PICA’s Leadership Team, and the wonderful participation of students who live at PICA, as well as students from all walks of campus life, PICA has been bursting at the seams all quarter with a plethora of sustainable living activities and experiences, all of which are free of charge and most of which are open to any students on campus. PICA has hosted at least four Saturday Garden Workdays, as well as several visits from College Eight Core Course students, who have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in organic gardening as part of their Service Learning project. PICA, along with several gracious and talented facilitators, has also hosted three workshops this quarter: Solar Cooking; Canning; and, Sri Lankan Cooking. All of these workshops were really well attended and thoroughly enjoyed by all. PICA also held its final Fall Garden Party, which included a Cob Oven Cook-Off event, which was the culmination of a student-led Cob Building class held last Spring quarter at the Sustainable Living Center as part of the Student Environmental Center’s Green Building Campaign.  PICA students have participated in the Farm’s Harvest Festival and the Practical Activism Conference, and also hosted a Student Garden Market Cart. This small-scale farmers’ market provides a venue in which all student gardens on campus are invited to participate by providing produce and flowers grown by students in campus gardens to be offered free of charge to students, and student gardeners gain the opportunity to outreach to the campus community about the campus gardens and sustainability issues in general.

I feel lucky to be a part of such a vibrant and dynamic community here at PICA, one in which issues of sustainability, social justice, and global food systems are contemplated, discussed, and digested, all against a backdrop of students engaged in organic gardening, composting, and homegrown community meals.  The best part of my job as PICA’s Program Assistant is getting to interact with students who are as excited as I am about the prospect of being a part of the change we want to see in the world of food systems, sustainability and social justice. I am confident that if anyone can bring about a sea change in those arenas, it is these students who, full of energy, gumption, and the passion of their convictions, can accomplish anything they put their hearts and minds to.

Bethany Hecht is the Program Assistant for the Sustainable Living Center and the PICA Program 


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Solar Cooking at PICA

On October 9, 2011, thanks to the PICA Program, 15 of us enjoyed a lovely SUNNY day experimenting with Solar Cooking in the PICA Commons. I enlisted fellow solar cooking maven, Ann Shelley to assist, and between us we had five different solar cookers to experiment with. These ranged from fancy (kind of expensive) manufactured varieties, to one made from a foil lined windshield shade! (Alas, we did not have a pizza box cooker, which has some good reports.) We baked ginger snap cookies and soft pretzels for noshing. We also did research with boiling water in quart canning jars, cooking carrots, asparagus and eggs in dry and wet environments in each cooker and we charted the results. All but the windshield cooker achieved success in cooking the test items eventually and everyone thought it would cook with a little tweaking to get the angles right for maximizing the sun, and the cooking chamber right, for capturing the heat (we used an inflated clear Baking Bag).

For many links, comments, and photos I invite you to visit our class site:

Solar cookers work on the same kinds of timing as a crock pot. Slow…or slower.

In our hottest solar oven, cookies baked in 20 minutes, slightly less than twice what they would have required in a preheated, purchased fuel oven. In other ovens, they took 45 minutes. All tasty in the end. So, like so many things, solar cooking is an exercise in preparation, forethought, and participation in your life as a part of the earth’s natural day.

For we, the privileged, there is choice in cooking fuels. In many parts of the world there is only wood, and that resource is becoming scarce, its use a burden on the environment. For the women (it is truly mostly the women) who trek miles to get the wood, to stoop over the fire and breathe the smoke, to cook daily their families basic grain or bean or kernel, solar ovens are a lifesaver.

Our PICA class was a visceral exploration and discovery of what this earth offers the attuned. It is a full tilt delight to go off in the morning to work or play, with a pot of beans, or casserole, in a solar cooker pointed at the hottest spot of the day (that’s where the awareness comes  in), and come home to have them ready to eat and still hot. Which is what I did for our Barley Tofu dinner last week.

Barley Tofu

½ cup pearled barley

8 ounces (or more) sliced mushrooms (optional, but delish)

1 ½ cups water

1 pound medium/soft tofu

⅛ cup olive oil

1 packet dry onion soup or onion dip mix

pinch paprika

In a wide (skillet sized) baking casserole with lid, put the barley, mushrooms and water. Slice the tofu onto this, drizzle over it the olive oil, sprinkle over dry onion soup/dip packet, then paprika, cover and bake.

Solar: 4 hours at peak sun

Gas or Electric Oven: 350 degrees, 2 hours.

Catherine Banghart and her husband, David, have been living off-grid and experimenting with solar cookers   for 28 years. All of their electricity is from solar panels with battery storage.

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