Professor Gliessman. Illustration by Leigh Douglas

For the past 30 years, UC Santa Cruz has offered resources for students interested in contributing to campus sustainability through programs like the Community Agroecology Network (CAN) and the Program in Community and Agroecology (PICA).

Within the UC system, these programs, which offer educational opportunities to students interested in everything from organic farming to social justice, are unique to UCSC — but that doesn’t mean they can’t fall victim to financial woes.

“The fact [these programs] exist on our campus shows you how much effort the students and the campus put into creating a better sustainable agroecological network for ourselves and our future communities,” said Kirsten Williams, fourth-year sociology major and development and events coordinator at the campus sustainability office.

The agroecology program at UCSC is a holistic and interdisciplinary program, drawing students from programs like environmental studies, community studies and the biological sciences for a common goal of contributing to campus sustainability.

The program was founded in 1982 by current agroecology professor Steve Gliessman, who also serves as the Alfred E. Heller Endow chair, a position that appropriates funds for university-affiliated programs like PICA.

However, the UC-wide budget crisis, in addition to Gliessman’s impending retirement from the university at the year’s end, has put the future funding of
undergraduate resource programs like CAN and PICA at risk.

“We aren’t free from larger budget problems,” said Andrew Holstedt, fourth-year environmental studies major and PICA intern. “A big issue is staff. For PICA, we’ve had to substantially decrease hours.”
As Gliessman plans to retire, future funding decisions for programs like CAN and PICA will be left to the incoming chair. Program funds collected from private donors are appropriated as the chair sees fit.

“I’ve used those funds for [agroecology programs] … I could have used [the funds] for research,” Gliessman said.

Both CAN and PICA offer classes that may be taken for credit, like “Environmental Education and Sustainability.” Additionally, the programs offer student-led seminars teaching sustainable living skills, and also host community meals, serving student-cultivated food organically grown on campus. Gliessman said programs like CAN and PICA have introduced students to a new approach called “action education.”
“You’re learning something in order to do something — to bring about change that is needed in society,” Gliessman said. “You’re not just learning facts. You’re learning skills that you can take out in the community and create change where it needs to happen.”

Alongside environmental concerns, social justice remains a significant issue within both programs. In addition to incorporating organic gardening practices on campus, the programs advocate the development of direct farmer-to-consumer relationships with food producers, such as coffee growers in Central America.
“We try to create as many opportunities as we can for undergraduates to get their hands on these things and engage in food systems issues directly, especially the social justice side of that,” Gliessman said.
Many students have found the resources offered by these programs as important to the future of not only the UCSC community but for communities on a larger local, regional and global scale.

“Programs like CAN and PICA offer students and our community members the ability to learn about the organic food systems and sustainable living to help promote a healthier society as a whole,” Williams said.
Until the future funding of such programs is decided, Bee Vadakan, director of education at the Sustainable Living Center, said she “encourages students to voice their support.”

“The [university’s] cutting of innovative programs that focus on student-led teaching lower the quality of education that is available to students,” Vadakan said. “I think [the university] needs to hear what’s meaningful and important to students.”

Free weekly dinners hosted by Friends of CAN (FOCAN) are also held on Tuesday nights from 6 to 8 p.m. in Building A of the Sustainable Living Center, located next to the Farm.
For additional information on campus sustainability efforts, visit and in addition to, and