The University of Houston is growing something other than bright, young minds on campus.
Since 2009, UH’s Campus Community Garden has been producing organic vegetables that help feed Houstonians. Located at Wheeler Avenue and Cullen Boulevard (next to Cougar Woods Dining Hall), the garden occupies 600 square feet of campus space and grows a variety of fruits and vegetables — arugula, Swiss chard, radicchio, carrots, beans, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, herbs, melons and more.
Harvested produce is donated to local food pantries that serve families in need. In 2014, UH donated more than 800 pounds of food to organizations, including Star of Hope Mission and Manna House.
The Campus Community Garden is overseen by UH’s Office of Sustainability — particularly the student garden coordinators, but it depends on the helping hands of community partners and volunteers to sustain its growth.
Urban Harvest is one of the garden’s biggest supporters. The local nonprofit organization is committed to expanding the presence of community gardens throughout the city. It also delivers educational programming aimed at helping these gardens thrive in urban environments. Members of the Urban Harvest team offer gardening classes at UH and serve as consultants for the garden’s care and maintenance.
UH’s garden also benefits through the support of the campus community and volunteers from local organizations (including YES Prep and UH’s Metropolitan Volunteer Program). Through special gardening events, volunteers learn more about gardening from members of the Office of Sustainability staff while actually working with the crops — harvesting, watering, planting and other tasks.
While the Community Garden produces healthy items, it also serves as an informal outdoor classroom to learn more about sustainable agriculture said Sarah Kelly, program manager for the Office of Sustainability.
“The garden promotes healthy living,” she added. “It helps get people outside and connects them with nature. Most importantly, the experience of working in the garden provides them with an opportunity to see where their food is coming from.”
With continued support from both the Cougar community and neighborhood volunteers, Kelly is confident that more good things will sprout from UH’s soil.
“It’s crucial to keep gardens like this one thriving,” she said. “The University is in a food desert with few outlets offering fresh produce. A lot of good can come from our garden. By partnering with our neighbors, we can continue to make a positive impact in Houston and perhaps even inspire the creation of more gardens in the community or on campus.”