Category Archives: Fall 2013

Kale Craze!

Dinosaur Kale, one of the three varieties grown in the PICA gardens

Dinosaur Kale, one of the three varieties grown in the PICA gardens

         Hello beautiful humans! If you don’t already know me, my name is Erica Van Skike and I am the PICA Weekly Community Meals Coordinator this school year. This means I help coordinate and facilitate the three-night-a-week community meals program that is open for all Village residents. These meals are a time for community members to come together through food. I am a second year PICAn, a third year psychology major, and I have an additional interest in sustainable food systems and agroecology. After living in PICA for my second year now I have become increasingly interested in what we grow in the PICA gardens. Out of all the delicious fruits and veggies we grow, kale is my favorite.

        There is something about kale that really appeals to PICAns. I remember last year, as a PICA resident, just about every PICAn I knew was obsessed with this beautiful brassica and tried to incorporate it into their diets as much as possible, and this obsession has not seemed to wither away this school year. But what is it about kale that is so intriguing to us? Where does it come from, and why has it become a staple vegetable in the PICA diet?

        Kale has been cultivated for over 2,000 years. Before the Middle Ages, kale was the most popular leafy green until cabbage became more widely eaten. Because kale does so well in cold climates, it became increasingly popular in colder European regions. For example, in nineteenth century Scotland, kale was so resistant to the frost that kail became a generic name for “dinner” and all Scottish kitchens included a kail-pot for cooking.

Tree Kale

Tree Kale

        The Brassica oleracea family refers to the following vegetables: cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale. The Brassica oleracea plant is native to the Mediterranean region of Europe. Kale is currently botanically known by the variety acephala which means “cabbage of the vegetable garden without a head.”

         But why do we as PICAns appreciate kale so much? First of all, kale is a nutritional powerhouse. One cup of chopped kale contains 9% of the daily value of calcium, 206% of vitamin A, 134% of vitamin C, and an amazing 684% of vitamin K. This richness in vitamin K is associated with various health benefits. It can reduce the overall risk of developing or dying from cancer (specifically: cancer of the bladder, breast cancer, colon cancer, ovary cancer, and prostate cancer), and is necessary for a wide variety of bodily functions, including normal blood clotting, antioxidant activity, and bone health.

Red Russian Kale

Red Russian Kale

Not only does it have awesome health benefits, but it can be cooked and eaten in a variety of different ways so it never gets boring. Kale is always good massaged in a salad with lemon and soy sauce dressing. It’s also great in vegan scrambles in place of eggs, or in soups, as kale chips, or sautéed with olive oil. There are so many ways to eat kale, which is good since it never gets boring.
Kale has been growing abundantly and successfully throughout the years in our PICA gardens. It is an especially good harvest in the winter when the harvest is low for other fruits and veggies. The types of kale we grow in the PICA gardens are dinosaur kale, Russian/Siberian kale, and tree kale. Dino kale, also known as Tuscan kale, is the best type of kale for cooking, with its blue/green/black leaves and its earthy, nutty flavor. It is growing in both the A and B gardens. Russian kale is incredibly hardy and has the toughest stems of all the types of kale. Look for this variety in the B-garden. Tree kale is found in the A-garden and although it is a little tough, when massaged it’s very good in salads as well. Make sure to take advantage of all the beautiful, tasty kale that will be available to harvest in the PICA gardens this year! There will be a lot and we don’t want any of it to go to waste.

ericaarticlepicAbout the author: Erica Van Skike is the PICA Residential Community Meals Coordinator for the 2013-2014 year.


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Gardening and Connecting to Your Food System

        mollygardenworkHello everyone, my name is Molly Travis and I am the PICA Garden Coordinator this year! The title “Garden Coordinator” is kind of a misnomer. You can’t actually coordinate or control a living environment. Take weeds for example. Weeds exist because they’re just [undesired] plants trying to grow, and in response, we weed the garden to get rid of them. The individual never directly initiates the controlling or coordination of weed suppression; it’s all in response to what the natural environment is already doing. Although the spontaneous nature of gardening can be challenging sometimes, it is the unpredictability that makes going into the garden each day a fun and new experience.

         Gardening has many different applications and interdisciplinary aspects to it besides the physical act of gardening. The most important relation I’ve found is the connection to your environment through gardening. Each day you spend time in the garden observing the different insects and birds, watching Nanuk hunt, and experiencing the always-changing weather patterns we have in the Village (aka perma-fog). You also create an intimate relationship to the food that you eat. There may be good experiences like appreciating the pineapple guavas during the winter, or bad experiences like finding aphids on your kale. None of this can be experienced in a grocery store or by getting your food from a country thousands of miles away.??????????

        Not everyone thinks that gardening is fun, and that’s ok! I actually really hate spiders and gross smelling things, both of which are commonly found in gardening. Also, sometimes it’s more fun to eat the food than to actually grow it. I think it’s good to recognize the importance of gardening in our food system because it provides a direct way for us to become connected to our food system, but it’s more important to focus on the actual food that we’re eating.

         Food is not just something we consume; it’s something we need to live. If food (calorie) is something we need to live, then there is a huge discrepancy in what we’re actually eating.  This is an easy example, but it is obvious to see the difference between McDonald’s French fries and a potato in its raw form. But what about the natural soda you buy at New Leaf that has hidden fructose and was actually manufactured by a sub corporation of Coca Cola? This isn’t to say that all processed food is bad. Remember, canning and preserving your own food is still a method of processing. The problem with processing is what goes into it.

         There is no way to quantify all of the benefits that eating good food can bring, but that’s not what’s important. What I want everyone to ask himself or herself the next time they eat something is “How does this taste” or “How does this food make me feel”? For all intent and purposes, eat whatever you’d like but remember to keep these questions in mind. The first step to understanding your food system is to experience your food.  So next time you’re in the garden, pick some food, eat it, and have fun!

“Book Recommendation: In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan”

mollyarticlepicAbout the author: Molly Travis is the 2013-2014 PICA Garden Coordinator.

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Basil at PICA

ocim_15        Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a familiar plant to many of us at PICA. The plant is cultivated for it’s unique flavor. It is thought to have begun being cultivated in India around 5000 years ago, although some believe that it was first cultivated even further east in the Hunan region of China. There is much debate about how the herb made it’s way east. It has been recorded in the mediterranean in both Ancient Greece and Egypt. It is thought Basil may have made it’s way back to Ancient Greece by Alexander the Great after his campaigns to the east. It is recorded being brought to the British isles as late as the 1500’s and it made it’s way to the America’s in the 1600’s

        Through out it’s history Basil has picked up a plethora symbolic connotations. In Ancient Greece Basil was associated with hate and anger, it was thought by some that Basil would only grow if it was yelled and cursed at while sowing. This can be contrasted with many European ideas about the plant that developed in Medieval period. Basil became associated with royalty due to it’s rich smell. The French still sometimes refer to the plant as “ l’herbe royale” . The plant is also associated with death rituals throughout Europe leading as far back as to Ancient Greece. It was thought that placing Basil in one’s hand would ensure a safe journey for the dead. In ancient Greece and Egypt it was thought to open heaven up to the dead. In India it was often put in deceased people’s mouths to ensure that they reached God.

        A kind of Basil known as Tulsi is a sacred plant in Hindu tradition. It is used when making offerings to many gods, and in some traditions the preparation of Tulsi with meat is regarded as highly offensive. Basil is believed by many to have sprouted from the ground on which Christ was crucified. It is an important plant in eastern Orthodox traditions and is used to garnish orthodox holy water .


Basil grown at the PICA Greenhouses

        Basil can be found in PICA in our lovely greenhouse and in each PICA house. Basil is very intolerant of cold weather and acts as an annual in areas in which frost occurs, thus in Santa Cruz and other more northern parts of America, Basil is commonly grown outdoors in the spring and summer, but it can be grown indoors as well. Also when growing Basil it is important to pluck flowers as they begin to develop flowers as the plant will start to develop a woody stem otherwise and it will not provide the same levels of delicious oils that Basil is grown for. If there are any members of the community that would like their own personal Basil plant, come and let me know as I have 6 extra plants in the Greenhouse.

damonpicAbout the author: Damon Chadic is the PICA Garden Propagation Coordinator for the 2013-2014 term.

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Building Conscious Sustainable Community

               Hi there, I am Simone Cardona and I am the  Events Coordinator for PICA this year. I am very much excited about all of the wonderful growing (literally and metaphorically) experiences that will continue to be held in this space and community. I will be creating and hosting workshops three times every quarter as well as collaborating on campus wide sustainability events to help bring in a diverse group of people to share their passions, talents, helping hands, feedback, and presence into the agroecology community. In fact, PICA would not be able to function without the community to build, maintain, transform and evolve with it. The growing demands on the earth and as well as the people living on it require social and environmental responsibility that must be addressed in order to see a wiser, more sustainable future. In order to support this transformation requires that the people work together on building empowered, informed, and sustainable communities that support and actively work towards environmental and social justice. This is why I would like to talk about building conscious sustainable community.

       The Program in Community and Agroecology asks a thematic question how issues of environmental quality and social justice interact in sustainable communities. How do our local efforts relate? Challenges with the current western capitalist system often include oppression, lack of access to healthy foods, lack of safe spaces, under-representation, and discouragement from participation in the community, or even lack of community altogether. Within small scale communities, it is vital to question the system that perpetuates injustice and oppression. The people carry power to transform their spaces and build community within a vision of the larger systemic problems. Sustainable communities instead challenge those normalities and provide an alternative. PICA provides events and community space where all are welcomed to converge together for collective action in empowerment through agroecology networks and skills sharing.

       Recently at the California Student Sustainability Coalition (CSSC) Convergence at Humboldt State University, Mark Lakeman spoke of Portland’s City Repair project that “educates and inspires communities and individuals to creatively transform the places where they live.” The vision includes creative transformation of community spaces, that emphasize the human to nature connection. Gardens are a direct tangible way to connect humans to nature, because every human needs food, and a garden plot is a physical transformation of space. Gardens are therefore, a source of power for communities to come together to collectively resist corporate food industries and their often associated environmental and social injustices. It allows people to build coalitions together to organize for support and giving. Within the vision of City Repair, placemaking is an involved process of citizen engagement, relationship building, landscaping, communal stewardship and actual reclamation of public space. It reflects broader societal issues and contributes to participatory democracy. As people reclaim their space and repair disconnections, they build on a common ground, with renewed empowerment. Placemaking involves natural building ,which emphasises reliance on low cost, low input and low impact resources. It serves to empower people to believe that they can effectively create something that is sustainable and also benefits the community. Placemaking also uses permaculture and public art, which both emphasize conscious, sustainable design.

       It is important that our local efforts carry beyond our community too. In order to truly promote sustainability, we must perpetuate our work, knowledge, skills, talents, and passions beyond ourselves with the intent that they will be sustained over time. It is our responsibility to educate, share, and create, and creating sustainable communities is one effective way to do so. PICA follows this model by providing an alternative sustainable lifestyle through community  food justice and self sustainable local food sources. It is my sincere hope that my efforts and that of this conscious, sustainable community will grow and carry beyond the grounds of this university to transform the world. We are all activists if we set our minds, bodies, and consciousness to reclaim our spaces and our power!


About the author: Simome Cardona is the PICA Events Coordinator for the 2013-2014 school year. 


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