December 13, 2004
New program focuses on community and sustainability
By Jennifer McNulty
For decades, the UCSC Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture
has given participants an opportunity to live and work together
as they learn about sustainable farming. The intensive hands-on
training can be a life-changing experience, but few undergraduates
have been able to participate in the apprenticeship because
it requires a six-month, full time commitment.
Eager to integrate some of the community-building aspects of
the apprenticeship into the undergraduate curriculum, environmental
studies professor Steve Gliessman saw an opportunity when the
campus opened new student housing units at the Village a few
Gliessman, whose office is located between the UCSC Farm and
The Village, spearheaded the Program In Community and Agroecology
(PICA) to give students an opportunity to experience membership
in a close-knit community coming together around food issues.
So many of our students have lost a sense of community
as the communication age has separated people, said Gliessman.
This is an attempt to reclaim that sense of community.
Working the soil together gives people a chance to connect on
a lot of different levels.
For two years, Gliessman has worked with Don Rothman, senior
lecturer in writing, and Jenny Anderson, environmental studies
lecturer and program development coordinator, to guide about
25 undergraduates as they've explored issues of community and
sustainability through a combination of classes and hands-on
projects, including creating a garden and building a greenhouse
at the Village.
Now, with an infusion of nearly $190,000 from the Clarence
E. Heller Charitable Foundation, PICA will expand to about 50
students from across the campus. The outside funding will support
the hiring of a coordinator, as well as provide course relief
for instructors and small stipends for student internships.
The program will combine small seminar courses, internships,
and hands-on learning to bridge academic and cocurricular aspects
of college life. Rothman and Sarah Rabkin, a lecturer in writing,
will emphasize how writing can enhance communities.
PICA students are encouraged to explore all aspects of the
food system, including the environment, economics, culture,
and society. The dual focus on community and food systems gives
students from all majors virtually unlimited opportunities to
explore the relationships that underlie food production, with
a goal of bringing consumers and producers closer together,
Too often, when we talk about agricultural sustainability,
we talk about organic production and markets for products, and
there's little emphasis on community and relationships,
said Gliessman. This is preparing students for what they'll
do after they leave the university. It's about how people become
effective members of a community.
PICA student interns have worked with the Homeless Garden Project
and in local schools, while others have interned with small
coffee cooperatives in Costa Rica and Mexico. Not all endeavors,
however, revolve around food production, Gliessman noted.
Students don't come here to learn to garden, but they
can learn to garden if they so choose, he said.
Although the program began with students who lived in the Village,
PICA is open to all students, regardless of where they live.
Many early participants remain involved even after moving off
campus, noted Gliessman.
It began with the living units because they offer such
potential for creating a community, but it's about learning
to accept each other, work together, and learn from each other,
said Gliessman, for whom community has been a thread
throughout his life. Gliessman was a founding member of the
Molino Creek Farming Collective near Davenport, and he lived
and worked with agricultural communities in Costa Rica and Mexico
before coming to UCSC, where he said he continues to forge meaningful
communities around shared endeavors with students.
Students benefit greatly by knowing how to interact with
people and how to contribute their knowledge to a community,
and they enrich the university by bringing back what they learn,
said Gliessman. PICA is about how we, as an institution,
can affect what students do when they carry their knowledge
outside the classroom and into the community, where they are
going to live and work the rest of their lives.
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