Rice’s community garden donates produce to people in need.

A volunteer works in the garden. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

Since summer 2018, the Betty and Jacob Friedman Holistic Garden has been a space where members of the Rice community can gather to plant, prune and pick a variety of produce. During the year, most of the fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden end up in Rice’s serveries, adding to the seasonal diversity of its menus.

With campus closed, however, and the number of Houstonians experiencing food insecurity growing by the day, the holistic garden has begun donating its fruit, vegetable and herb harvests to a local food pantry that provides meals and groceries to those in need.

Joe Novak / Photo by Jeff Fitlow

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated housing and food insecurity for countless individuals, leading lines of cars stretching for miles at food banks across the nation. At a time when every little contribution makes a big difference, the garden’s donations provide much-needed assistance to local organizations.

“A number of the garden’s volunteers reached out to me and asked what they could do during this period to help get the garden through,” said horticulturist Joe Novak, who has managed the garden since its inception.

This small group of 12 volunteers has been helping harvest since mid-April, with only a handful in the garden at the same time because of social distancing procedures.

“We practice safety through physical distancing and protective face masks and gloves to the extent possible,” Novak said. Dropping off each haul at the food pantry, he said, is equally convenient and safe.

A volunteer works in the garden. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

Novak knew he wanted the produce to be put to good use somewhere in Houston if it couldn’t be used by Rice, so he asked his volunteers to suggest a program. They quickly put him in touch with St. Luke’s United Methodist Church.

The church uses the produce in two ways, Novak said, “first in the church program on preparing and serving hot meals to children in need, and second is that extra produce is offered through their food pantry to anyone in need.”

“Tiny Acts of Kindness,” a project from Rice’s Office of Public Affairs, features stories about Rice Owls responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in kind, creative and effective ways. Read the Rice Magazine series here.