As students walked to school in the south Bronx they saw barren lots and decaying buildings. Even tiny stems of hope contrast the sobering reality; the average yearly income is $20,000. It is common for a mother in the south Bronx with two children to struggle daily with feeding her children and providing a home for them.
Enter Stephen Ritz, a dedicated teacher who saw four jails, two sewage plants, children dropping out of school, forty percent of people living in poverty, zero access to fresh vegetables, diabetes and obesity destroying the lives of his students and decided this was an opportunity to not only make the change – but be the change. Stephen planted some seeds and began growing food with his students. Most of his kids live in public housing, some come from foster care, some do not speak English and many face the very real possibility of not graduating or even remaining enrolled through high school. All of his kids had zero access to fresh vegetables or any healthy plant – based foods.
We can change their outcome in this generation. Superman is not coming. We are here. Si Se Puede.
Stephen Ritz is the Chief Eternal Optimist of Bronx County started a revolution with some seeds in the middle of this food desert called his non-profit The Green Bronx Machine. He engaged the kids in his classroom to grow vegetables. They started coming in early and staying late. They took home healthy food like kale and tomatoes to their parents and grandparents. And this got entire families enthused about eating healthy. The seeds they planted became farms across the Bronx; rows of red, green and yellow vegetables that fed residents a huge dose of health—without food stamps.
Poorest Congressional District in America
Stephen’s students became so successful at growing vegetables that they generously shared their success with orphanages and the tsunami flood victims. His students became the first to install a vertical green wall of plants, 21 stories up, atop the John Hancock building in Boston. His kids started painting walls of green graffiti in New York. He guided his kids, from the poorest congressional district in America, to tap into their talents. No longer are his kids victims of their circumstances. They are masters of their own destiny.
The youngest certified workforce in America.
Their self-esteem soared as they became the youngest certified workforce in America.
They were paid real money for their work.
His kids make $15 per hour; many graduate to earn $25 per hour, or $52,000 per year.
They have completed many lucrative projects including a house in the Hamptons and became the south Bronx version of “Movin’ On Up.” The effect of his kids making a living wage, being able to provide a nice home for their parents, their brothers and sisters, the whole family eating healthy food is an astronomical victory that truly cannot be measured. This one act affects at least three generations, the kids, the parents, and the grandparents.
A testament to this success is the soul of Stephen Ritz. He believes in his kids, he engages them and most important, he loves them.
With targeted students, the attendance rate at school went from 40% to 93% attendance. Today, 100% of his students graduate. His program has partnered toward 2200 jobs so far. And has grown 30,000 pounds of vegetables. He decided to tear up asphalt and make gardens. He built community, got kids to go to school and fed hungry people. They grew gardens under the subway. The luminescent beauty of his gardens grabs your attention with the heart and soul of all who worked on it. Growing plants is a license to print money as he grows his students into abundance, tipping the scales of justice back in their favor.
Hoping my reach will forever exceed my grasp.
Stephen Ritz’s purpose here on earth is for “One Simple Reason: Hoping my reach will forever exceed my grasp.” He discovered that if you green kids pockets – green their minds – together we can create abundance where we can all prosper. Stephen wants to create new teachers, adults and community minded members that believe we can all prosper and change the world. “We can grow abundance. Schools can do it,” says Stephen as he envisions his program at schools around the country.
Plant by plant we are changing outcomes, changing lives.
In the South Bronx, kids bring home food, get grandparents and parents involved. Kids now aspire to jobs and projects that were barely a whisper in the past. As they hold up a paper of who they are in the future, it is not blank, but filled with professions like chef, contractor and engineer. Plant by plant the Green Bronx Machine is changing outcomes, changing lives. No longer is South Bronx following the industry, they are leading the way.
A story that is going to change America. A nation in line with nature.
Stephen wanted to shatter the limitations of growing food and began to explore technology to see if he could grow food faster. He came upon the tower gardens, a 21st century technology that grows food vertically. The Tower Gardens is brainchild of Tim Blank, creator and President of Future Growing, who spent thirteen years at Disney Epcot, refining his dream of doing something for humanity and finding a better way to grow fresh healthy food. Aeroponic Tower Garden has impressive numbers:
- 1 acre of food can be grown in 4000 square feet
- 10 acres of food can be grown in 1 acre of land
- Uses 90% less water
- Uses no soil. No pesticides
- There are 10 – 11 harvests a year
- 1 acre of the tower garden generates $250,000 x 10 harvests = $2,5000,000 gross profit
Stephen brought this technology to the Green Bronx Machine so they could grow more food with less space and reap increased profit for his kids. Disney and TNT came calling with specials on Stephen’s increased success and this new technology, the Tower Gardens. Their story brought more victories for his kids. In the words of Stephen, “We are telling a story that is going to change America. A nation in line with nature. “
Natural Resource – Abandoned Buildings.
The natural resource overflowing in the south Bronx is abandoned buildings. Stephen is creating a new Health, Wellness, and Biodiversity Center in a 100-year-old reclaimed school library in the heart of Claremont Village, South Bronx. Follow then on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/green.BX.machine. Stephen is asking all of us to roll up our sleeves and grow something great. And added perk to all this — he has a hundred-pound weight loss by eating the vegetables his students grow.
I am the Weed that wants to Succeed.
Stephen will tell you that he is “the weed that wants to succeed.” But to see all of his kids hold up signs of professions that they now aspire to, 2200 kids have jobs thanks to his program, 100% of his kids graduate, $15 per hour is what they earn while in school and some earn $25 per hour upon graduation, the kids, their parents, their grandparents are healthier because they are eating more vegetables and plant – based foods, diabetes and obesity is becoming a faint memory. He is creating hope and a better plant filled future for thousands of kids with all the projects he has in the works.
In the words of Stephen Ritz, “We can change their outcome in this generation. Superman is not coming. We are here. Si Se Puede.” (Yes we can.)
For more information visit Green Bronx Machine