Growing Farms, not Food Deserts Alternative Spring Break! Featuring: Pizza night

This past week was an amazing experience for me. During our (early) spring break, I co-led an Alternative Spring Break trip (ASB) that stayed in Houston focused on the issue of food sustainability and food accessibility. Rice has been named one of the healthiest colleges in America—a fitting title given that our serveries make 90% of what’s served from scratch, have a fully stocked salad bar, and recently even feature more locally-sourced ingredients. However, this is a jarring contrast to the city in which Rice belongs—Houston has been deemed ‘America’s Fattest City.’ Our ASB looked at some of the factors that contributed to this, since it can hardly be all attributed to the lack of healthy eating choices. More specifically, one such factor is the presence of food deserts, or areas in which residents lack access to healthy, fresh, affordable food. For our trip, we worked at the Last Organic Outpost, a 2 acre urban farm in Fifth Ward, one of Houston’s prominent food deserts. The Outpost was a food oasis—with fresh herbs, vegetables, and even fruits growing in abundance. During our week there, we created more raised beds for planting later, planted a lot of seeds, and also reclaimed a neglected herb garden. We observed that while the farm was a rich resource to the surrounding community, it was under-harvested due to a relatively low community involvement. We’re hoping to help change that by planting more fruit trees as part of our reorientation project!

Of course—our trip wasn’t all work and no play. During the week, we divided ourselves into cooking teams to take turns making dinner. The group I was in covered Tuesday dinner—we made pizza featuring fresh produce from the farm and from the organic vegetable share we’d bought at the start of the week from a co-op! Pictures are included below—needless to say they were delicious! For more information about ASBs–click here! 

Beet and fennel on one half, cheese on the other

Mango curry pizza

Dessert pizza!

And, last but not least–a picture of our group with the founder of the Last Organic Outpost–Joe Icet! A shout-out to a most incredible team!!

Group picture at the Outpost!

 

Owls, Owls Everywhere! ASB San Francisco

Being a Rice Owl can take you to some exciting places. This Spring Break, instead of staying at home in Houston, I traveled to San Francisco, California on an Alternative Spring Break Trip to focus on the education gap in our nation.

What is an Alternative Spring Break trip? It’s exactly what the name suggests. No misnomer here! It is a service trip sponsored by Rice’s Community Involvement Center that you have to apply to. If chosen, you and the other members of your group go volunteer with the specified organization. There are several ASB trips each year, with various destinations and organizations. You can view a list of the 2012 trips at this link, under “2013 Trip Destinations”: http://cic.rice.edu/asb/#Student Information Sessions.

In San Francisco, I was paired with a teacher at a middle school. During the school day, I observed and helped out in the classroom, and afterwards, I volunteered at the built-in after school program. Not only did I get to help the kids, but I also got to learn about them, play games with them, and talk to them. I now understand the current state of our public education system better, and I learned that educational inequality involves many complex features. There isn’t an easy solution for educational inequality, but little things, such as telling a kid about your experiences in college, can potentially make a difference.

In addition to volunteering, my ASB group and I also got to tour around San Francisco. Some of the places we went to included Ghirardelli Square (I had the BEST ice cream cone in my LIFE), Fisherman’s Wharf, Coit Tower, and Baker Beach.

I mentioned how being a Rice Owl can take you to some exciting places. My group and I stayed in San Francisco for only a week. But, one night, as we were headed back on the bus to the place we were staying at, we met a Rice alumnus! One of my friends had been wearing a Rice hoodie, and the alumnus noticed it and started talking to our group. He had graduated a few years ago, and told us he now works in San Francisco. Owls, Owls, everywhere!

In short, my ASB experience was amazing, and I would not trade it for anything in the world.

Here we are at Baker Beach. Some of us made an ASB SF light show with our phones! Photo Credit: Soorya Avali.