Huffpost Green
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Stephen Ritz Headshot

Harvesting Hope

Posted: Updated:

What if happy meals resulted in happy kids and a happier, healthier world? What if students were able to grow them in schools? Our Green Bronx Machine (@greenBXmachine) is a non-profit dedicated to growing, re-using, resourcing and recycling our way into new and healthy ways of living. We're transforming landscapes and mindsets, harvesting hope and cultivating local talent while driving academic engagement and civic competencies in ways we've never imagined. School attendance has jumped from 40 to 93 percent and students are aspiring to careers and training they never, ever imagined. 30,000 pounds of Bronx Fresh vegetables later, our favorite crop has become organically grown citizens, graduates, voters, members of the middle class, schools of students far more in tune with healthy eating habits and access to healthy food! We're moving those who are traditionally "apart from" success to becoming "a part of" it in ways that benefit all!

Across America, marginalized and high need communities are phenomenal incubators for progressive change. As the health of the South Bronx goes, so goes the health of NYC, NYS and the nation! Our replicable model helps to move us from a nation of red states and blue states to a united nation of green states, living eloquently and ecologically in line with nature -- one that is inclusive, equitable and transformational for all -- most importantly, locally grown and maintained. That 37 percent of local residents are food insecure and others are eating their way into chronic health problems is unacceptable. The potential to bridge gaps in culture, race and ethnicity rooted in the common denominator of food -- integrated with school and community -- seemed worthy of pursuit; especially since many of our students previously thought donuts were vegetables! That we can engage students -- in and across all academic areas -- rooted in health, wellness and feeding people -- while providing access to living wage employment and possibilities that help mitigate and impact environmental concerns globally is beyond anything we ever hoped for; yet, as our TED TALK shows, here we are.

We don't expect every student to be a farmer, but we do expect them to read , write, do the science, the math, problem solve, speak to ordinal directions and processes, offer outstanding customer service, be engaged and aspire to things and places they've never imagined before. This is the promise of education that we are determined to deliver. When our video, URBAN FARMING NYC, filmed in a weekend as an extra-credit project, propelled us to the White House, peers and parents noticed. The whole Bronx cheered! We're honored that our students want to impact lives in Haiti, Africa and their native homelands; remarkably, we're doing just that! It's all very visible and tangible -- the students see it, grow it, taste it, own it, sell it -- proof the Bronx CAN -- Change Attitudes Now! WELCOME TO GREEN BRONX MACHINE demonstrates, we are poised, ready, willing and able to export our talent and diversity in ways that make dollars and way more sense! To think that we are routinely taking kids from the South Bronx and employing them across America, in high profile locations is simply spectacular!

Innovation results from a state of mind. We're determined to foster situations and students to become active problem solvers, cooperators, collaborators and stewards with endless possibilities. When students and communities "own" their destiny, they truly shape and create it! Going forward, we need greater emphasis on career and technical education and the trades. We are a nation of do-ers; we are Amer-I-Cans! There is such a need for skilled labor, artisans, craftsmen of all sorts and at all levels! These are the jobs that will never be outsourced and will help grow our country. Moreover, they are skills that relate inherently to content area and information based texts. Institutionally, we're advocating for smaller class size and differentiated instruction. These issues speak to the need for personalization and humanization of the system and processes within. We'd like to see STEM expanded to STEAM with A representing ARTS, ASPIRATION and ADVOCACY; we need to come together creatively and collaboratively in shared space environments, the added value is tremendous and the sum far exceeds the total of the parts. Together, we can all prosper!

Collectively, we owe our children opportunities and safe, healthy places where they can be inspired to perform and dream of a brighter future. Where we learn matters and we must start embracing the notion that healthy environments and classrooms can facilitate learning, performance, retention and aspiration. I'm honored to be a Green Apple Education Ambassador for the U.S. Green Building Council, Center for Green Schools, National Ambassador for one percent for the Planet and thrilled to be involved with initiatives like the Green Apple Day of Service, Green Schools Alliance, and Green Schools National Network. Together, we can change the way we teach and learn in this generation. We've partnered schools like JVL Wildcat Academy with local companies like Fresh Direct and national corporations like Progressive Insurance and The Apron Project to create wholly inspirational learning environments.

That children from the poorest Congressional District in America can be featured on Disney truly represents the NEW BRONX and the promise of public education irrespective of zip code! We've proven we can grow our way into a whole new economy! As a nation, this is our moment; together, we can all prosper! Let's grow this forward! As we say in the Bronx, "Si se puede!"

From Our Partners