Food Tank spoke with Stephen Ritz, the Founder of the Green Bronx Machine, who will be speaking at the Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C.
Stephen Ritz is South Bronx educator / administrator who believes that students shouldn’t have to leave their community to live, learn, and earn in a better one. Moving generations of students into spheres of personal and academic successes which they had never imagined — while reclaiming and rebuilding the Bronx — Stephen’s extended student and community family have grown more than 35,000 pounds of vegetables in the Bronx while generating extraordinary academic performance. In 2015, Stephen was named a Top 10 Finalist for the prestigious $1m Global Teacher Prize. Stephen helped earn his school the first ever Citywide Award of Excellence from theNYC Strategic Alliance for Health and directly attributes these results to growing vegetables in school. The National Association of Secondary School Principals cited Stephen’s work and Green Bronx Machine as one of five national exemplars of service learning.
In 2014, Stephen’s fourth and fifth grade students accepted a personal invitation from White House by Chef William Yosses to visit the White House and exchange ideas about food literacy. Consequently, Stephen and his students hosted Chef Yosses and an international team at their school using food grown in his classroom. Stephen’s Bronx classroom featured the first indoor edible wall in NYC DOE, which routinely generated enough produce to provide healthy meals to 450 students while training the youngest nationally certified workforce in America. His students have embarked on growing projects from Boston to Rockefeller Center to the Hamptons and beyond — all while earning living wages en route to graduation. Affectionately known as “America’s Favorite Teacher,” Stephen has moved attendance from 40% to 93% daily, helped provide 2,200 youth jobs in the Bronx and captured the United States EPA Award for transforming mindsets and landscapes in NYC.
A strong advocate for Project Based Learning, Stephen is an annual presenter for the Buck Institute and works with school districts and universities across the country. Stephen has worked with and conducted professional development for the AFT, UFT as well as charter, independent, public and private schools. American Teacher: Heroes in the Classroom identified and featured Stephen as one of the top fifty teachers in America. Internationally, he consults with Instituto Thomas Jefferson in Mexico, lectures for the Hebrew University, was named a Delegate at WISE (World Innovation Summit for Education), and recently spoke at Congreso Nacional de Educacion in Medellin, Colombia. Stephen’s 2008 speech at Columbia University, entitled “From Crack to Cucumbers,” along with the release of a YouTube Video, “Urban Farming NYC,” resulted in a national following, including an invitation to the White House Garden. Dubbed the Pied Piper of Peas by Lorna Sass, Stephen launched Green Bronx Machine to anational audience and was selected as a national Green Apple Education Ambassador for the US Green Building Council and Center for Green Schools.
Currently, Stephen is working on embedding the concepts of sustainability, food, energy and environmental justice aligned to content area instruction into K-12 programming and beyond; having recently completed the first ever independently financed National Health, Wellness and Learning Center in a 100+ year old reclaimed school library in the South Bronx at Community School 55. Green Bronx Machine celebrated a 2014 Best of Green Schools Award — one of only ten recipients across the United States.
Stephen has electrified and inspired audiences of all types with his “Si Se Puede” message of hope, urgency, resilience and Amer-I-Can innovation. In February 2013, Stephen received the first standing ovation in the thirteen-year history of Green Biz and went on to standing ovations at the United Nations Social Innovation Summit and City Resilient. In 2014, he keynoted the Green Schools National Conference, Innovation Land, American Institute of Architects and WOBI (World of Business Ideas), Landmark’s Social Innovation Summit, amongst numerous others – all to standing ovations. He has worked with and consulted for Fortune 100 / 500 companies. Stephen uses his platform of public speaking to support numerous philanthropic activities locally, nationally and abroad.
In 2015 Stephen was invited to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative on Earth Day. In 2013, the United States Department of State and New York Foreign Press Corps toured representatives from 40 countries across Stephen’s worksites and classrooms. To date, Stephen’s work has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, USA Today, New York Times , Wall Street Journal, and on ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, NBC, TNT, Disney, and NPR, as well as internationally from Colombia to Dubai.
His TEDx Manhattan Talk boasts over 960,000 views – ranked in the Top 10 Food / Education TED Talks of all time and is used for teacher training / workforce development globally. He has also been featured in the film adaptation of Michael Pollan’s best-selling book, In Defense of Food, NPR’s All Things Considered, and The Rockefeller Foundation’s Food for Thought. In 2016, he presented at the State of STEM at the White House.
Dedicated to harvesting hope and cultivating minds, Stephen aims to open a nationally replicable Career Technical Education public school rooted in urban agriculture, green, and sustainable initiatives. He recently lost more than 100 pounds by modeling positive behavior and eating what he and his students grow in school. He believes that together, via collaboration, coalition and get-to-yes-solutions, we can all prosper!