Stephen Ritz's childlike enthusiasm and positive entrepreneurial spirit have enabled him to transform one of the bleakest neighborhoods in the world into a blooming environment. In The Bronx, New York Ritz has developed a curriculum that allows crops and students to bloom to their full potential. This is the exceptional story of The Green Bronx Machine.

The Bronx

Ask any person in the world what first comes to their mind when they think of New York City and they will probably say “the Empire State Building, Broadway, the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, and yellow taxis on the bustling streets of Manhattan.” And that vision of New York surely exists. But what many people don't realize is that the 1.6 million residents who live in Manhattan make up only 19% of the city’s total population. New York is made up of five boroughs, and one of them,The Bronx – just a hop and a skip away from Manhattan – is home to another 1.8 million residents. 31% of them live below the poverty line. This makes The Bronx the poorest district in the United States. The Bronx is also characterized by high-rise buildings, social housing, crime, gang activities, substance abuse problems and fast food restaurants.

A green classroom in a gray neighborhood

Stephen Ritz is a longtime Bronx resident with the passion, will and drive to show people the positive side of life. As a primary school teacher, he lets children dream and tries to give them a better future through education. But how do you create a green future in a gray neighborhood? In the beginning, Ritz introduced flora and fauna into his classroom, and began growing different kinds of herbs, vegetables and fruits. Since then, what started with spice racks in the windowsill quickly grew into vertical farms, and even a kitchen in the classroom, right next to the fresh food, so that everything can be transformed into healthy meals.

"We grow vegetables, and our vegetables grow students, schools, and communities." - Stephen Ritz 

With fast food so prevalent in The Bronx, its icons like the McDonalds clown, Burger King crown and KFC colonel can usually be found on every street corner. Fine dining restaurants are few and far between, along with supermarkets stocked with fresh produce. Gas station convenience stores tend to be the most popular, along with the many liquor & tobacco stores. The area is often referred to as one of the most food insecure environments in the US, where almost no healthy, fresh food is available.

A shopping street in The Bronx

A new world opened for the children in Stephen Ritz's class when they took on the everyday care of plants. After a lot of love, attention and water, his students are understandably proud to have grown their own strawberries. For many, it’s a new experience to eat a freshly picked strawberry, for example, let alone experience the entire growing process from seed to fruit. Ritz has observed his students bloom simultaneously with their crops, and the classroom has become a safe place in the unsafe neighborhood.

On of the students of The Green Bronx Machine in the classroom

Stephen Ritz as proof: lost 100 pounds by eating healthy

Stephen Ritz, the person himself, is also a living example of the benefits of a green diet. Before opening his edible classroom, he lived off what The Bronx had to offer. Pizzas, burgers and fries were his normal, daily diet, and because of that, Ritz weighed over 250 pounds. When he began his green teaching method, he also started eating what he produced. Within a year, he had given up his fast food diet, and lost almost 100 pounds as a result. Ritz felt much more energetic, and felt even more driven to teach young children that ‘green’ food is better than ‘brown’, like the meat and deep fried snacks many of his children were accustomed to. He also noticed that green food not only had a positive influence on his weight, but also on his overall mood. Ritz began caring less about stuff, and valued his well-being and his ‘children’ (the students) more. This is the message he provides to his students to this day: don't fight over cars, jewelry or money. Fight for a green and healthy future for yourself and the family and friends around you.

"I had to bury several students who were swept up at a young age into the gang life of The Bronx. A life that revolves around stuff and wealth. I'm sorry I couldn't show them enough and let them taste enough of a green future.” - Stephen Ritz 

From 1 school in The Bronx to 500 schools worldwide

Stephen Ritz's edible classroom has been overwhelmingly successful. To expand its reach, Ritz started a not-for-profit franchise that shares his Green Bronx machine philosophy with anyone who wants to hear and taste. Today, 50,000 students are taught daily, aligned with this method, in more than 500 schools in 15 countries.

A green future for Cory

The real success story of The Green Bronx Machine is told by the students themselves. Cory is one of those examples. As a boy, Cory grew up in The Bronx, and was raised by his grandmother because of an absent mother and incarcerated father. As a child, Cory was exposed to Ritz’s curriculum at a young age. In the process, he found himself inspired by working with live crops, so after school – with a little help from Ritz – he started working as a grower in the city greenhouse Gotham Greens. Cory is 34 years old now. With the money he earns today, he can support himself and his grandmother. And he has the opportunity to take home fresh produce every day.

Stephen Ritz (r) and Cory (l)