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Stephen Ritz’s enthusiasm cannot be contained—a good thing for his students at Community School 55 in the South Bronx, New York, where he serves as teacher and CEO—“chief eternal optimist”—of the Green Bronx Machine, a nonprofit that plants community gardens in the Bronx and beyond. Ritz began as C.S. 55’s science teacher, and now oversees the science program and works on initiatives locally and worldwide. In May, his book, The Power of a Plant, comes out.
School: Community School 55, South Bronx, New York
Career Path: From a once-weekly science teacher to a global green ambassador: “I found my calling by growing vegetables, children, and community in the South Bronx.”
Teaching Philosophy: “We must realize that every single thing we do, say, and think in a school building impacts learning—no child rises to low expectations. Neither ZIP code nor skin color should determine outcomes in life; access to quality education should!”
Cooking with “Chef Bill”: “Working with former White House chef William Yosses remains among my favorite evolving projects. Not only did he invite us to the White House, but we also grew crops to his specifications in preparation for his visit. Chef Bill remains an active partner, visiting monthly and teaching us the science behind food—fermentation, crystallization, nitrogen and carbon cycles, etc. My students now understand what it takes to plan and deliver a gourmet meal—from seed to table to tummy—raised in less than 10 feet!”
3 Great “Gardening Tools”
Tower Garden: “This NASA-tested technology is the most cost-effective indoor growing unit I’ve used to date.”
Green Bronx Machine Mobile Classroom Kitchen: “Every classroom, school, and community center in North America can have a low-cost, state-of-the-art, 100 percent portable commercial teaching kitchen at their fingertips with absolutely no construction or installation issues.”
Digital camera: “No school program should be without a digital camera or smartphone to document and share learning.”
Why did you start the Green Bronx Machine?
“The art and science of growing vegetables—aligned to content-area instruction—grows healthy students, high-performing schools, and resilient communities.”
Photo: Courtesy of Green Bronx Machine