In meeting Stephen Ritz, founder of Green Bronx Machine you get the feeling you will never meet another human so enthusiastically dedicated to making the lives of youth better. Through a thoughtful agrarian-focused program with roots in one of the nation’s poorest communities in the South Bronx, the Green Bronx Machine (GBM) cultivates a one-of-a-kind experience through hands-on activities related to planting, growing, cooking, and eating nutritious food.
With access to hands-on, project-based activities, the lessons create a dynamic learning experience aligned to key school performance indicators. The program inspires healthy living, healthy learning, and healthy eating, all rooted in teamwork and collaboration, where teachers and students grow vegetables using Tower Gardens® aeroponic growing system. The celebrated curriculum has engaged over 100,000 students in 20 states and six nations. This, in turn, has had a positive impact on student achievement through increased graduation rates, improved health outcomes and key insights into how food justice, food access, and well-being are interconnected. There’s even a companion TV show, “Let’s Learn with Mister Ritz” with episodes filmed locally and across the globe.
With this perfect post-pandemic recipe for school and community success, Ritz notes, “I’m always excited about planting seeds, ideas, opportunities, and of course, gardens across the nation and around the world. I like to say our message comes from the sun, not the cloud – it’s time for a new normal.”
This spring, GBM is expanding its reach as they team up with the Quest Diagnostics Foundation, as part of the Quest for Health Equity (Q4HE) initiative, expanding the esteemed Green Bronx Machine Classroom Curriculum to 30 more schools in New York, Colorado, and Ohio reaching 15,000 additional students across the US. This support will equip each school with teacher training, educational materials, tower gardens, and cooking supplies to support new student achievement in heath, wellness, and academic success. Q4HE is a multi-year initiative of Quest Diagnostics and the Quest Diagnostics Foundation focused on providing a combination of donated testing services, education programs, partnerships, and funding to support initiatives to close the gap in healthcare disparities.
“We are thrilled to partner with the Quest Diagnostics Foundation and honored to join their Quest for Health Equity initiative, focused on bridging the health equity gap in under-resourced communities,” says Ritz. “This collaboration speaks to who we are, who they are, where we are going together, and the power of growing something greater!”
With GBM launched almost a decade ago, Stephen Ritz brings experience as a longtime educator and has been recognized with a number of coveted awards, including the recent Classy 2021 Social Innovation Award. Additionally, Ritz earned a Top Ten Teacher Finalist spot for the Global Teacher Prize, the NYC Food Policy Center Gamechanger award, and COVID Food Hero by TMZ. Ritz notes the honor he recently received by being appointed to NYC Mayor Eric Adams’s Food Transition Team (the first transition team of this kind for New York City), “however, it’s quite an honor and validation for all Bronx residents – including those most marginalized.”
“To be clear, it’s not about me,” says Ritz, “it’s about pedagogy and replication.”
Recently both NYS Commissioner of Education, Dr. Betty Rosa and NYS Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets, Richard Ball visited the classroom in the Bronx, one of the locations where Ritz brings the program to life. Ritz says that both Commissioners see this model as one to replicate for scalable educational and health outcomes statewide. “To be able to bring children from the poorest Congressional district in America to present and install our Tower Garden technology at the White House three times, and to garner the first Emmy Award in NYC history for Bronx students speaks to who we are.”
At the end of the day, it’s about impact. “The greatest legacy and accolades that my wife and I, along with Green Bronx Machine will leave are happier, healthier children, schools and communities that are empowered, self-reliant, resilient, and thriving. And, I could not be more excited about the upcoming debut of our award-winning documentary, Generation Growth – the perfect exemplar of the results we will achieve with Quest Diagnostics. There is great and meaningful work to be done and Green Bronx Machine is honored to be on the forefront of impact and disruption.”
Ritz continues, “We’re just getting started. From our humble corner of the globe, we are determined to change the world!”
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