Wheelbarrows sit ready to be used by UCSC gardeners. Photo by Rosario Serna. 
Wheelbarrows sit ready to be used by UCSC gardeners. Photo by Rosario Serna.

The sun breaks through clouds to find students from the Program In Community and Agroecology (PICA) tending to their gardens. Spring has arrived and it is time to turn soil beds and mulch in this pocket of campus. But except for the bus stop announcing the Village and Farm, there is little that suggests to the outside world that this microcosm of sustainable agriculture and cluster of bungalows even exist. 

PICA, which was started in 2002, teaches students about self-sustainable living through farming and community. Involved students  create and maintain gardens in addition to running a Village-wide composting program. A two-unit seminar on sustainability is offered to PICA students each quarter.

PICA residents live at the mouth of the lower quarry in Quad B. Their bungalows are easily distinguished from the rest of the Village community because of their proximity to the gardens and greenhouse.

“Our mission is to get students to get [their] hands dirty, to get involved in community,” said program coordinator Vivan “Bee” Vadakan.

PICA accomplishes these goals in two ways: connection with food sources and connection with each other. PICAns, as they are affectionately called, create their own garden patches, which they tend to regularly. Often, they even work on Saturdays.

“There’s a rooting here, a sense of entanglement with the earth,” said fourth-year Kate Shaffner, a resident adviser for Quad B. She added that PICA gives her “a sense of place.”

Community involvement also comes from shared meals and food culture, Vadakan said. PICAns take part in a cultural cooking series featuring different ethnic dishes from around the world. 

“[PICAns] get to learn how to cook for 40 people,” she said. “That’s something that is very powerful to them.”

Fifth-year Cuc Vo, a current PICA intern, said the group recently shared a North African-themed meal. After their weekly three-hour-long seminars, he said he enjoys relaxing with a group meal.

Shaffner, who holds quad meetings at the beginning of each quarter, said that community issues that arise are often discussed during shared dinners.

Vo and fourth-year Ann Ngo, who are both interns this quarter for PICA, said they do more than build a community inside the Village. Under program coordinator Vadakan’s guidance they are setting up a garden at Vo’s alma mater, Oakland High School, in Oakland, Calif. 

“They lack community,” Vo said of students at Oakland High School. “We want to get it more green. There’s so much pavement, it’s like a prison.”

Vo and Ngo spend 12 hours a week interning for PICA. This includes leading workshops and helping with the gardens. In addition to their commitments at UCSC, they set up workshops for students and staff at Oakland High School. 

By getting the adults and students to get their hands dirty, Vo hopes that there will be more cooperation between the two groups. 

“We’re using what we learned,” Ngo said. “[In the garden] they can have a calming place to move negative energy into positive energy.”

Vadakan said the program serves as a model for sustainable community living.

“Community takes commitment — there’s effort involved,” Vadakan said. “You have to be mindful.”


PICA hosts different workshops to encourage self-sustainability throughout the school year, including an upcoming solar cooker workshop on May 23 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Attendees will learn how to save energy and make food using solar cookers built out of household materials.