Learning About Sustainability and Agroecology with PICA

Updated: Aug 21, 2020

Written by the PICA Team


What is PICA?


The Program in Community and Agroecology (PICA) is an educational program focused on experiential learning, sustainability, and food systems located at the University of California, Santa Cruz.


All UCSC students are welcome to participate in upcoming remote workshops offered. Students have the opportunity to learn about growing their own food and explore ways to live more sustainably. PICA is located at the entrance to the Village at the UCSC campus, right across from the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS).


Our Mission Statement


PICA's primary academic mission is to engage students with sustainability through practical experience and the sharing of community-based knowledge. Emerging themes of discussion include, but are not limited to: power dynamics (racism, classism, sexism, etc.), lack of representation, knowledge validation, staff and student relationships (student autonomy), student accountability, and intentional inclusivity.


PICA offers a unique space to students of color in an effort to avoid, mitigate, and eliminate racism, classism, tokenization, white privilege, oppression, marginalization, identity policing, and space policing in historically white garden spaces and take steps towards accountability, truth-telling, and positive change.


Through practical training in agroecology and organic gardening, composting projects, and student involvement, PICA students are able to integrate Agroecological principles of sustainability, food production, food justice, and social justice into everyday life. In doing so, PICA students will be better prepared to work for tangible change in the food system outside of an academic setting.



PICA Community Garden


The Garden

The Foundational Roots Garden, which lies adjacent to the B-quad of the Village, is at the heart of PICA. Visiting classes, and wandering students alike come together in this garden to grow food, cultivate healthy soils, and sow hand-collected seeds, all the while learning about nature through their personal experiences.

Formerly an old rock quarry, the PICA B-quad Garden has become a place for students to learn about sustainable food systems and building healthy soil.


In the A-quad garden, we also have our urban garden demonstration site, a rainwater catchment system, a herb spiral, a cob oven, a permaculture keyhole bed, a native plant garden, and terrace beds.


The Greenhouse

The A-quad garden is also where the PICA greenhouse lives. In the propagation area, students learn about germination, seedling care, transplanting, and seed saving. During the winter especially, it becomes essential to start new plants indoors. The seeds stay warm and sheltered in the greenhouse until it is time to send them out into the garden.


The Compost

Located at the farm, our vermiculture composting system is a joint effort between PICA and the village residents. Village residents divert their food waste from the landfill into collection buckets in their buildings. These buckets are gathered weekly and added to the composting system. The goal of this partnership is to achieve complete food waste diversion in the Village Community. Currently, all buildings in the Village are actively engaged in the composting program. The process of converting food scraps and other organic matter back into a usable soil amendment is an important and vital step in sustaining the soil and community.


The Kitchen

Providing more direct links between students and the food they consume is one of the goals of the PICA program. Organic vegetables are harvested and cooked by PICA students, herbs from the garden are incorporated into fresh-baked breads, and desserts may feature fresh fruit from trees planted by students in past years.



Sustainability Workshops

PICA hosts hands-on sustainability workshops each quarter related to gardening skills, social justice issues, and conscious cooking. Previous events have included: food justice, fermentation, permaculture, fruit tree pruning, worm composting, canning, cob oven building, cheese making, seasonal cooking, sprouting, and many more.


Due to COVID-19, PICA will be currently holding workshops online. Check our social media below to stay updated with us!


Learning about food justice


What are the connections between social justice, sustainability, and food systems? The dominant cultural story is that eating healthy is about personal choice and willpower, but it doesn’t take into account that our current food system is not just – there is not equal access to healthy food.

Students who participate in PICA learn that healthy food is not just about personal choice or will power, it is about access and larger social justice movements.

What is a food desert?

A food desert is an area with little or no access to large grocery stores that offer fresh and affordable foods needed to maintain a healthy diet. Basic food desert mapping is measured by the distance to a supermarket: one mile in urban areas and more than ten miles in rural areas. You can view the USDA Food Access Map here.

What is food justice?

Communities exercising their right to grow, sell, and eat healthy food. Healthy food is defined as fresh, nutritious, affordable, and grown with care for the well being of the land and the people who work the land.

Urban gardens can help address this issue of food access in a city environment and provide a place for individuals and communities to have an experience of empowerment in relation to their food system.




Follow us to stay updated and get involved!


PICA Website: https://ucscpica.wixsite.com/ucscpica

PICA Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/picaucsc/boards/

PICA Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/picaucsc/



Meet our leadership team!



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