STEPHEN RITZ, A 6TH GRADE TEACHER in the South Bronx, is challenging his students to grow food that will improve their health, gardens that will improve their neighborhoods, and jobs that will improve the trajectory of their lives in a notoriously poverty-stricken community. He believes that his students should not have to leave their communities in order to live, learn, and earn in a better one. So he challenged his students to reimagine the streets of the South Bronx and make their community a greener place to live.
Over the past year, Stephen has developed “The Green Bronx Machine,” a project that has his students planting seeds in the classroom to create green walls, vertical gardens that are made entirely of edible greens and vegetables. The plants are harvested and cooked in the school cafeteria for healthy, organic lunches. The garden projects are growing to cover the rooftops of entire buildings, greening up the bleak Bronx skyline. And his students are able to sell their produce and use the skills they’ve gained in landscaping to find jobs implementing these gardens from New York City to the Hamptons.
The project was noticed by “The Bronx Can Initiative” which works to implement “food justice” in areas of New York City with obesity rates as high as 70%. The initiative has attracted hyper-local support and donations from the community’s politicians, businesses, and organizations. And the donations should keep coming.
These are the kinds of projects that should be enjoying big donations from important donors on the national-level, every single day. These are the kinds of projects that should be subsidized by our government by the people, for the people. By developing these gardens and patiently expanding the projects, Stephen and his students have the potential to address multiple large-scale problems within American society.
These gardens manage to tackle childhood obesity, combat the processed food industry, give a sense of purpose and responsibility to inner-city kids, and introduce impoverished communities to “eating local,” all at once. Something as simple as growing a garden can change the way we live, the way we eat, and the way we relate to the earth and to one another on a daily basis. And teaching a child to plant a garden gives them the knowledge they need to treat their bodies and their earth with the respect they deserve.
“I’m growing organic citizens,” Stephen says. “We are growing our way into the new economy.”