Category Archives: Winter 2012

Living at PICA

I first walked through the PICA gardens on the midnight of my first night in Santa Cruz. The moon shone down on the full beds and blooming planters, and I stumbled around taking in all the flora  visible in the moonlight: High fences rich with hops; stout, alien kale stalks; grape vines; strawberries, and herbs of every scent. I lay in the hammock outside my house in B-quad and couldn’t wait to revisit the gardens the next day. I was already thinking of what I wanted to plant, and, of course, what I could eat.

I had known little about the Program in Community and Agroecology when I applied for residence in the Village. Back in the UK, I had worked with conservation groups and had some farming and gardening experience but I wasn’t really able to combine my passions for sustainable agriculture and political activism with my academic life. I chose to come to Santa Cruz because I had heard of the community’s commitment to sociopolitical issues. I wanted to engage with like-minded people, to hear about the social issues they face and join their actions in solidarity. As I learned more about PICA, I saw just how valuable the program is, not only for the students lucky enough to live here, but for the wider local community. In partnership with the Community and Agroecology Network (CAN) and student groups on campus, PICA empowers individuals with the space and resources to learn about responsible food systems and the sociopolitical issues which surround food production.

The chance to study at a world class university was privilege enough, I believed. I honestly didn’t think I would be accepted into PICA. Surely such an opportunity would be greatly oversubscribed, and I wasn’t even a UC student. But soon, to my great relief, I found myself in the hammock in the Village, looking forward to all that I hoped to explore, taste, and learn of this new country. I really feel as though I have made friends for life during my year with PICA. We learn more from each other, achieve more through co-operation, and at PICA it really shows. Everyone I have met here has such dedication to the Program. They’ll do anything to share what we PICAns have here with as many people as possible. It is endearing to experience the commitment of the PICA community to strengthening their roots and pursuing new endeavors. More than anything, I am blessed to live with so many genuinely happy people. It must be the year-round summer days!

I will never forget my time with PICA. Besides everything that has made my experience in America so unforgettable – the natural diversity and beauty of the land, the abundance of artistic and musical expression of all kinds, the food…, it has been the vibrant, loving family I have found here at PICA that has made my time in Santa Cruz so special. We take so much pride in our home here, and by living together and sharing both the work and rewards, we have become incredibly close. UC Santa Cruz has given me an incredibly stimulating academic experience. PICA has given me the home which supports me, and the opportunity to further my practical knowledge of sustainable agriculture and food activism. I can’t wait to come back and try the honeyberries we planted this year!

Sam Starke is a PICA resident and is often seen happily harvesting in the PICA gardens for that night’s community meal


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Explorations of PICA

As PICA’s Events Coordinator, I have the pleasure of planning and coordinating several workshops each quarter. Thanks to generous support from the Campus Sustainability Council (CSC), these workshops are free to all UCSC students and offer participants an opportunity to engage in hands-on education in sustainable living skills. I am beaming at the end of each workshop, grateful for the wonderful opportunity to learn and share wisdom from great facilitators – all with a plethora of knowledge. Each time a new joy is shared, a new discovery made, and the students that are participating in the workshop respond with excitement and wonder.

In our Canning Workshop, students pickled organic carrots from the farmers market and organic green beans grown on the UCSC Farm as part of Steve Gliessman’s agroecology class. We cooked up some delicious pumpkin butter with organic squash graciously donated by Molino Creek and Two Dog farms.

During the recent Plant Identification Workshop, we wandered around the Sustainable Living Center, The Village and Jordan Gulch, all located on the UCSC campus, to discover, identify, and examine the medicinal qualities of plants. Collectively, we shared questions and insights from both our personal experiences and the information participants had gained from their previous plant studies.

It is inspiring to live and work at PICA. This vibrantcommunity amazes me with its dear friends and deep connections to food systems. We enlighten and teach one another every day. It is difficult to simply greet a PICAn in passing and not get consumed in feverish conversation. I walk outside my door into the Foundational Roots Garden, lured by the rosemary and lemons, which are now ripening. I look around and remember that, as students, we are doing much more than growing food and expanding our minds with academia. We are growing as individuals in community, a conscious lifestyle, a home. What a delight to know that this wonderful niche is exactly where I want to be. This community, connected to food systems and a sustainable lifestyle, is boundless, jovial, and thriving.

Lidia Tropeano is PICA’s Events Coordinator extraordinaire

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Food For Thought

“Eating is not only a physical process; it is also a spiritual process. Your food could not enter your mouth, did it not first enter your mind.”

These words blossomed out of a page from Prof. Martin Versfeld’s The Philosopher’s Cookbook as I sat in a Bristol coffee shop while traveling last November. Bristol, I should say, is an English port town brimming with urban gardens and community allotments, a place where a PICAn could get very cozy indeed. I read the words again and felt such a sense of delight that my cheeks warmed and my stomach fluttered. Versfeld’s sentiments weren’t new to me. As a PICAn, I had taken part in enough community meals, workdays, harvests and seminars to know in my bones how profoundly food can transform us: mind, body and soul. What really struck me, as I sat thousands of miles from Foundational Roots and many moons past my graduation, was how urgent that transformation still felt to me. So PICA – the place, the people and of course the food – had entered my mind and given me a point of origin from which positive change was not only possible but tangible. I swear, I could taste it.

This all may sound a little highfalutin’ given the fact that my favorite moments with PICAns amounted to little more than sitting around a table, chewing on some garden grub and shooting the breeze. There was dirt under our fingernails. A dirty dish or two might have missed the sink. I even remember the occasional remark from fellow campus activists that PICAns might do well to look outside their gardens and consider how they could contribute to sustainability and social justice more broadly. It was a fair enough point, I thought at the time, but where did the drive to make social and environmental change come from if not from a sense of convivium, of connection to the land, organisms and experiences that allow us all to flourish? We saw a reason to act with every crop of collard greens, every Saturday spent turning compost and every meal shared among friends. We undertook these tasks, however small and ordinary, in order to live better in the world, and so we found joy. This is the seed of transformative action. This is the spiritual process Versfeld was talking about, the one I’d been so lucky to take part in.

And yes, we PICAns are lucky. We get to draw on the community we create and find the inspiration to make change. We are uniquely equipped to view the world as a living, integrated system, to advocate for its protection and to do so with warmth and camaraderie. Even after we leave the garden, we get to cultivate and savor that spirit as if it were a good meal with good friends. In fact, it’s because of PICA that each of life’s meals presents an opportunity for change, and for that I will always be grateful.

Kate Schaffner is an environmental educator in San Jose. She recently completed an AmeriCorps term, which she spent managing a public orchard that produces fruit and nuts exclusively for food banks and a children’s education program. She then traveled through England, Ireland and France, visiting friends, farmers and food artisans alike.

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PICAn Permaculture

I can’t say I expected that I would be here like this right now but here I am! I’m back at PICA for my last quarter doing an internship to break some ground and contribute to the food forest down here. My project is focused around guilding two black walnuts in the food forest.

A permaculture guild is a form of companion planting for fruit (or any) trees to occupy niches and perform ecological functions such as nitrogen fixation, ground cover, and attracting beneficial insects. It could be said that in some ways, the guild attempts to mimic the structure of a forest around a single tree. Walnuts however are more challenging to guild than other trees due to their natural allelopathy that comes from juglone, a compound found in walnut leaves, roots, bark and nut husks. The compound stunts the growth or outright kills many plants and is also toxic to some insects. With this in mind, the selection of plants for a walnut guild is greatly limited, but there are still numerous plants that are juglone tolerant. The guilds so far have had black raspberries, lamb’s ears, and daffodils added in, with New Jersey Tea and chrysanthemums to be planted in spring. The New Jersey Tea was an interesting find as it is a nitrogen fixing shrub that survives well in the shade, making it a great choice for other guilds and it is native to the US.

I’ve had a great experience working in the PICA seminar with other students and sharing about how guilds and the food forest function and mimic an actual forest. Without their assistance, I would have had a very hard time getting all this done, and it wouldn’t be nearly as fun. With each addition we make, we invest a little in the community and create more opportunities for the people next year. It’s been great to be able to contribute to the community in the form of this project and I hope others will build on it in the future.

                                                                                                                                                                           Shane Xiang Hao is a senior at UCSC and is doing a fantastic job on his senior project of PICA permaculturist in residence

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