young hero

Houston-area teen wins prestigious award for sustainable gardening initiative

A Pearland student's hydroponic gardening nonprofit is increasing sustainability efforts at local schools. Photo via Getty Images

At only 16 years old, Pearland student Rahul Vijayan has been named a winner of a prestigious award.

The 2023 Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes recognizes 25 young leaders "who have made a significant positive impact on people, their communities, and the environment," reads the news release. Additionally, 15 of the top winners each receive $10,000 toward their education or service work.

Vijayan created Farm to Tray, a nonprofit that equips schools with hydroponic gardening systems, which can grow fresh produce for school lunch programs. Since he started his initiative, he has distributed over 150 hydroponic grow kits to 23 schools across five districts.

“I want to influence and improve children’s day-to-day lives,” says Rahul. “Farm to Tray is allowing me to do that and make a tangible impact for thousands of students.”

Rahul Vijayan created Farm to Tray, a nonprofit that equips schools with hydroponic gardening systems. Photo courtesy of Barron Prize

In addition to working with programs from AP Environmental Science courses to elementary school classrooms, Vijayan is also collaborating with Houston Methodist to help set up healing gardens for cancer patients. His kits provide education about sustainable agriculture, while also introducing healthier food options, like peppers, tomatoes, microgreens, and lettuces.

After initially being inspired by the sustainability of hydroponic gardening, Vijayan reached out to Houston-based Moonflower Farms, which provides the grow kits for the program. Now, he has a team of 15 student volunteers and has received grants from Earth Force and Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots.

“Nothing is more inspiring than stories about heroic people who have truly made a difference to the world,” says T. A. Barron. “And we need our heroes today more than ever. Not celebrities, but heroes – people whose character can inspire us all. That is the purpose of the Barron Prize: to shine the spotlight on these amazing young people so that their stories will inspire others.”

Founded in 2001 by author T. A. Barron and named for his mother, Gloria Barron, the Barron Prize has honored more than 500 young people across America.

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A View From HETI

Houston could have ranked higher on a global report of top cities in the world if it had a bit more business diversification. Photo via Getty Images

A new analysis positions the Energy Capital of the World as an economic dynamo, albeit a flawed one.

The recently released Oxford Economics Global Cities Index, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s 1,000 largest cities, puts Houston at No. 25.

Houston ranks well for economics (No. 15) and human capital (No. 18), but ranks poorly for governance (No. 184), environment (No. 271), and quality of life (No. 298).

New York City appears at No. 1 on the index, followed by London; San Jose, California; Tokyo; and Paris. Dallas lands at No. 18 and Austin at No. 39.

In its Global Cities Index report, Oxford Economics says Houston’s status as “an international and vertically integrated hub for the oil and gas sector makes it an economic powerhouse. Most aspects of the industry — downstream, midstream, and upstream — are managed from here, including the major fuel refining and petrochemicals sectors.”

“And although the city has notable aerospace and logistics sectors and has diversified into other areas such as biomedical research and tech, its fortunes remain very much tied to oil and gas,” the report adds. “As such, its economic stability and growth lag other leading cities in the index.”

The report points out that Houston ranks highly in the human capital category thanks to the large number of corporate headquarters in the region. The Houston area is home to the headquarters of 26 Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Sysco.

Another contributor to Houston’s human capital ranking, the report says, is the presence of Rice University, the University of Houston and the Texas Medical Center.

“Despite this,” says the report, “it lacks the number of world-leading universities that other cities have, and only performs moderately in terms of the educational attainment of its residents.”

Slower-than-expected population growth and an aging population weaken Houston’s human capital score, the report says.

Meanwhile, Houston’s score for quality is life is hurt by a high level of income inequality, along with a low life expectancy compared with nearly half the 1,000 cities on the list, says the report.

Also in the quality-of-life bucket, the report underscores the region’s variety of arts, cultural, and recreational activities. But that’s offset by urban sprawl, traffic congestion, an underdeveloped public transportation system, decreased air quality, and high carbon emissions.

Furthermore, the report downgrades Houston’s environmental stature due to the risks of hurricanes and flooding.

“Undoubtedly, Houston is a leading business [center] that plays a key role in supporting the U.S. economy,” says the report, “but given its shortcomings in other categories, it will need to follow the path of some of its more well-rounded peers in order to move up in the rankings.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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