Category Archives: Spring 2010

PICA Family Reunion a Big Hit!

The first annual PICA Family Reunion, which took place on May 22nd, was a smashing success! The total number of attendees hovered somewhere around 60 people, and the crowd was an exciting blend of current PICAns and alumni, with the multi-aged crowd including some veterans who have been at PICA from Day One (Steve and Robbie, José) all the way to a PICA baby (Max). Old housemates reunited at the welcome table and raffle entry spot, and from there, reconnections and recollections abounded, as did the meeting and mingling of more recent PICAns with their more seasoned cohorts.

Though it was a blustery day, in true PICA fashion, everyone was more than happy to be outside enjoying the grounds of the Sustainable Living Center and being wowed by just how much more beautiful everything has become in the short time since they were last here. As the group started out on their tour of the greenhouse and Foundational Roots Garden, many guests remarked about the gardens looking so wonderfully cared for and how much everything has blossomed and grown since PICA’s beginnings. Once in the Garden, most people found themselves just wanting to stay there, looking over a display of garden photos from years past and fondly remembering how they had bonded with their fellow PICAns over many hours spent putting in fence posts, pulling weeds, or planting starts they had nurtured from seed. Several folks opted to get their hands dirty and harvest lettuce and herbs for a bountiful salad for the soon-to-be feast.

This brings me to what is an essential part of every PICA gathering: food! Again, in authentic PICA style, talented PICA chefs Victoria Bloedau and Dora Bromme presented the afternoon feast they’d lovingly prepared in all its glory to our eager gathering of folks. This spread was truly a miraculous offering of multi-cultural, sustainable, delicious food prepared with as many homegrown ingredients as possible and recipes from past PICA workshops. The bountiful menu — as much a joy to the eye as to the mouth and stomach — included tamales, collard wraps filled with curried brown rice and hummus, fresh spring rolls with peanut sauce (recipe below), vegetable sushi, white bean and basil dip with handmade chapatis, homemade cheeses and crackers, and lettuce herb salad with citrus vinaigrette. After the cooks introduced their dishes, the ravenous crowd formed the typical serving line, and people chatted with their line mates as they helped themselves to the awesome meal. Everyone sat down to eat at the various tables placed around the A-Quad, and, in between delicious mouthfuls and exclamations of “Wow, this is sooo good,” rich conversation and hearty laughter bubbled up all around. People reminisced about their time spent together in PICA, recalling some of their favorite meals, funniest moments, supreme challenges, and other fond memories.

As the meal wound down, people made their way into A3 to enjoy a slideshow of PICA photos, awesome live music played by Sarah Wheatley and David Saxton, and a dessert of apple muffins with PICA-canned pumpkin butter and rosemary shortbread. Steve then spoke to the crowd about how PICA has risen up from its humblest of beginnings to its current incarnation as a program that profoundly touches many lives. He asked folks in the room to remember their time at PICA and reflect on how that experience has impacted their lives, as well as their communities, going forward. With these reflections in mind, we then engaged in a family discussion of our vision for the future of PICA and the resources needed to sustain this vision. After a fifteen-minute brainstorming session in smaller groups, everyone came back together to share and record our ideas for future planning and networking. Strengthening the roots of our community in order to tap into resources for the program figured prominently. We envisioned a thriving PICA community that fills the whole Village and that unites current PICA students with alumni, fellow campus organizations, local businesses and nonprofit organizations.

One exciting project already underway to achieve this vision includes the SLC Green Kitchen, a community kitchen and experiential classroom that will be available to the entire campus community, and is designed with sustainability as its core principal. The Green Kitchen project has already been approved by the University, and PICA now requires all the help and ideas its community can muster to raise the funds needed to make the kitchen a reality. Possible efforts mentioned that afternoon included increasing our outreach to other campus programs and fundraising collaborations with outside organizations, such as local grocery stores and restaurants, though surely there must be more! We also spoke at length of an expanded, two-unit student internship program in which seasoned PICAns residents would directly mentor newer students to pass on community practices and create a more cohesive, productive community each year. Internships also arose as a way for students to connect with alumni and non-campus organizations already working hard to make the world more sustainable for all. And of course, everybody agreed on the need for more opportunities for alumni to return to PICA, be it at special garden workdays or future alumni gatherings. With this sentiment at heart, we concluded with a warm round of applause for Steve and the event organizers, and then raffled away several illustrious prizes, including a bottled of our beloved Condor’s Hope wine.

As is always the case with PICA, satisfaction abounded and people left with full bellies, stimulated minds, and happy hearts. I’m sure for many at the communal table, all of the familiar PICA elements of good friends, common cause, nature, food, and community combined to make for a fine homecoming experience. Those alumni that were not able to be with us were surely missed by all, but especially by those PICAns with whom they had shared one or two years in the Village. We hope that in the years to come, whenever we send out the call to come home to PICA, more and more of you will be able to make that journey. This day was just the first of many annual PICA Family Reunions, and we hope to see all of you at the next one! Keep your eyes out for an announcement next year about when it will be, and do whatever you need to make your PICA homecoming happen- you’ll be glad you did!

Veggie Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce

Veggie Spring Rolls (Pao Phia)                                                                             

* spring roll papers
* baked tofu, sliced
* red leaf lettuce
* Asian mint
* shredded carrots
* cucumber
* Somen rice noodles


* Cook somen noodles in hot water. Make sure you do not overcook!
* Strain and run cold water through noodles.
* Grate carrots, wash and break apart lettuce. Slice tofu and cucumbers.
* In a pan of warm water, soak a wrapper until soft.
* Lay wrapper out flat on clean towel.
* Place each ingredient down middle of wrapper.
* Fold over each end and tightly roll the wrapper around the contents, as if making a burrito.
* Press to close.
* When ready to eat, slice in two and serve with peanut sauce.


Peanut Sauce
* 1 Tbsp. Vegetable oil
* 1 Tbsp. Red curry paste
* 2 cups Creamy Natural Peanut Butter
* 1 cup Coconut milk
* 2-3Tbsp Tamarind juice
* Sugar
* Salt

* Heat oil in pan on medium heat. Add curry paste and cook until fragrant, stirring constantly.
* Add coconut milk until boiling. Then add peanut butter. Stir.
* Add tamarind juice.
* Add salt and sugar to taste



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Thank you PICA!

Last night, I walked through PICA–through the garden, under the bay laurel and out through the A quad. All the smells told me what the shadows were–the rose, the bay laurel, the fragrant mound of dry matter waiting for the compost, the Salvias.

That’s home. And that’s what PICA is. In a world where people are often more connected to communities on the internet than to the land beneath their feet, PICA is a stronghold of what home used to mean, what home should mean. It’s where college students can learn the arts and sciences that make a place home: gardening, ecology, botany, carpentry, cooking, music, community. And it’s a place to practice all those things, to leave a bit of good work in return for all that a place is giving you. I know that in ten years I’ll come back and say, can I come in? and maybe someone will ask and I’ll be able to say, I helped build the walls of that compost system–I dug the hole for that apple tree–I stood on one foot on a shaky stepladder to put screws into that greenhouse roof–I built that soil with so many friends. I remember when we caught the hill on fire sawing the poles for the greenhouse. I remember learning depressing things in ENVS 100, biking down the hill and hacking up rocky soil with a pickax, and realizing that what people need most is meaningful work that will get them what they need. We threw rotten fruit off the quarry walls once–David, Yvea, Gulliver and I–and lay laughing ourselves breathless in the grass. We chased deer, biked home at 2 am to see owls flying over our houses, watched bobcats hunting ground squirrels and thanked them for their help; we are part of this ecosystem. We named the golden eagle. We sent folk songs from all the Americas up the quarry and into the night.

Now I’m going away. It seems odd to leave a place that I have become such a part of, and that has become such a part of me. But that’s what PICA is for. It‘s a jumping off place, a place you stay until you are strong and wise enough to go. And then you do, and you take with you what you have learned, and share it along your way. So do as you learned in PICA. Come out of your room. Shoot the breeze with your neighbors, even if you don’t have much in common. Be a nerd–talk and learn about plants, stars, soil, compost. Laugh, dig in the dirt, and sing.
Thanks PICA, thanks PICA brothers and sisters: David, Gulliver, Dave, Tony, Mike, Billy, Jack, John, Yvea, Rain, Diane, Ngoc, Natasha, and the newer generation: Sean, Shayna, Victoria, Kate, Conor et al, and especially, Bee and Steve. It’s the confidence that you and the Garden (and the Compost!) have given me that carries me forward.

rock on, sarah

Sarah Wheatley, PICA graduate and lifelong fan

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Grounding Ourselves in the Garden

The world weighs on his mind like a lead balloon, but as he talks about the garden his spirit is untied and left to rise in the wind. Hope returns to his face. “The world’s salvation is in the garden,” he said over lunch that day. “All the world’s good is there.”

– Lisa M. Hamilton, recounting a conversation with farmer and gardener David Podoll, in Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness.

It’s a long day up in my office. There are narrative evals from last quarter to finish, a stream of emails to prioritize and attempt to answer or otherwise resolve, invertebrates to sort in the museum lab, conversations to have with department staff about enrollments and course requirements and glitches in registration. A grant proposal to write. Old research articles to purge. It’s not like one lead balloon weighing on my mind in there: it’s a whole raft of them.

But then it’s 3 pm, and I begin my Thursday journey down to the Sustainable Living Center. I cross the bridge between the redwoods as I walk to the bus, and the cool air coming up the canyon revives me. My thoughts focus squarely ahead to the PICA seminar.

It’s such an opportunity each week, this chance to come into the garden and spend time with students in ways our traditional course structure doesn’t allow. I pull weeds and listen to conversation about the upcoming strike, and consider how and why our class can accommodate it. I pull more weeds and listen to students describing upcoming study abroad trips to Mexico, to India; their enthusiasm bubbles up like water in the pond. I hack away at – that is, “trim” – a giant rosemary bush and learn about classes and internships and career hopes. I shake the dirt off a bell bean root to show off its nitrogen-fixing nodules and point out a weedy grass in an improbable place. From students in the class I learn about pruning and propagating figs and harvesting prickly pears and growing teff. I breathe in bay laurel and breathe out hope.

In these conversations and this work of weeding, sifting compost, and building rock borders, I am transformed. The garden both literally and figuratively grounds me, gives me this chance to connect each week with students and the soil, and to remind me why the mundane work of evals and emails and solving registration problems is, in the end, so important. And based on end-of-quarter reflection papers in seminar, this transformation and connection occurs not just for me. Our work together to transform the scrabble of rock and clay into vegetables and fruit produces even more: relationships, community, confidence in our abilities to carry this learning into new contexts and grow more food in other places, belief that we really can bring about a sustainable society. Listen closely, and you can almost hear David Podoll’s words echoing off the quarry walls: “The world’s salvation is in the garden.”

Katie Monsen, PICA Seminar teacher extraordinaire, with her sidekick, Anika

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My PICA experience (thus far…)

I joined PICA on a whim.  As an inexperienced, naïve freshmen, I was looking for an internship where I could physically practice and comprehend this new foreign term “sustainability.”  When I visited the environmental internship office I was immediately pointed toward the Program in Community and Agroecology for its reputation of teaching students the core values of sustainability in agroecology.  Despite the lack of experience and knowledge I had about sustainable food systems, I felt comfortable joining this foundational roots community.

With little awareness of what I was getting myself into, I began my first day learning about various types of plants and their symbiotic relationships.  I was overwhelmed with the amount of information offered to me, yet I became anxious to know more and explore all the opportunities the garden had to offer.  Everyday I interned, I would attempt to identify a new plant and learn more about the various techniques applied to organic gardening.

As my passion for food systems grew, I began to attend garden-based education workshops.  Here, I acquired garden teaching skills from staff and students affiliated with the PICA program.  The people involved in this community are food-savvy intellectuals that never cease to expand their devotion to sustainable systems.  I feel as if I have taken on their enthusiasm of the natural world by teaching others about the remarkable food web.

It wasn’t until last summer that I realized how important PICA is in my life.  From the extension of terraced beds to building a complete fence, I have never physically worked so hard nor felt so accomplished on a project.  Yet, the completion of each task would not have been as fulfilling if it wasn’t for the people helping me.  The summer work crew represented more than community, we were family.  Through them I discovered myself as a worker, companion, and individual in the food network.

Presently, I am involved in PICA’s school garden internship, in which I travel to elementary schools in the surrounding area and teach lessons on an assortment of garden and nutrition activities to K-12 students.  Through this internship, I am able to inspire children to explore their natural environment while eating a healthy diet. I gain a sense of pride from teaching my acquired knowledge to the youth and knowing that this transfer of knowledge is positively affecting the future of sustainable development.  Altogether, the PICA program has taught me the underlying principles of a sustainable community that I will carry with me throughout life.

Rachael Witt, illustrious PICA intern

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