When learning about life on UC Santa Cruz’s campus, you’re informed of the ten residential colleges, each with their own distinct characteristics. Wandering into each space, you’ll be immersed in the rich academic and cultural histories of these prominent societies.

But what about The Village

A small residential space, tucked away from the rest of campus, the Village is shrouded in mystique. On High Street, heading into the heart of campus, you’ll see the golden grasses of the Lower Quarry swaying gently in the wind.

Blink and you’ll miss the left turn into The Village, which is situated in the crook of a small valley, hidden from the gaze of any passersby. As you drive by the meadows, you may have noticed the blur of a figure walking along the sidewalk, into the fields, then gone. You might wonder, for just a second, where they could have disappeared to. 

For some students at UCSC, The Village is more of an elusive name than a tangible place. When you pull back the veil of secrecy, The Village is revealed to be a small but supportive community that has emphasized sustainability and preservation throughout its long campus history. 

Before it housed UCSC students, the area was the site of the historic Cowell Lime Works, a limestone production enterprise owned and managed by the Henry Cowell family. At its peak in the late 1800s, the lime manufacturer was one of the largest in the country. By the time of UCSC’s establishment in 1965, operations had long since ceased and facilities were left vacant, and the university reimagined it for campus purposes. 

The Village was eventually repurposed into the residential community it is today — building units, once temporary classrooms, turned into housing for over two hundred continuing and transfer students. 

But before The Village was a home for people, it was a home for birds — most notably, in 1975 it was the nesting place for the last known mating pairs of the American peregrine falcon left in California. Santa Cruz veterinarian James Roush and UCSC biologist Kenneth Norris developed a program together through which they could save the dying population.

Decades later, the facility that they established here eventually fostered the release of nearly eight hundred American peregrine falcons into the wild, effectively removing them from the endangered species list in 1998.

The ability to grow and harvest one’s own food in The Village was a unique opportunity made possible by the Program in Community Agroecology (PICA), a program focused around hands-on sustainability education and local food systems. PICA was established in the mid-1990s with the support of the groundskeeping staff, Village Residential Education, and the Sustainable Living Center. 

The program’s mission includes principles of agroecology and social justice. PICA existed as a safe space for any student, especially those from marginalized communities, to create food systems they could rely on to support themselves and those around them. However, due to lack of institutional support and student engagement (an issue largely caused by the pandemic and campus shutdown), the program has since disbanded, with an official hiatus statement released in May 2022. 

The Village Res Life team has since been working to revitalize what PICA left behind. Residential assistants have organized to request increased funding for garden workshops where the space can be restored to a former glory.  With each passing month, their efforts have turned into the growth of kumquat trees, lemons, herbs, and more — the return of life in the gardens reflects a persistence of the community knowledge and collaboration on which the space was founded.

From a limestone mine to a falcon breeding facility and eventually a community garden space, The Village has seen many lives. Driving by, you may never know what goes on in our little valley, but there is a richness and a history special to this space. 

The soil upon which The Village lies has been turned over again and again throughout the centuries, each time bringing about a new purpose. Its history is as unique as its location, and so is the community that it holds space for today. If you ever find yourself passing by on High Street again, consider walking down that winding path that seems to lead nowhere.