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Sometimes success comes from years of planning, hard work, and dedication, while other times, it seems to arise from a pure willingness to act. For teacher Stephen Ritz, what started as a simple project to plant fruits and vegetables indoors soon took this latter route to success, becoming what is now known as The Green Bronx Machine.

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Working at a high school in New York’s South Bronx district, Stephen one day received a box of daffodil bulbs, which he hid behind a radiator in his classroom. Unexpectedly, the steam emitted from the radiator helped the bulbs to grow, and also planted the seed in Stephen’s mind for a project centred around growing and maintaining plants in a classroom setting.

Stephen then set out on a mission, in collaboration with his students, to beautify their neighbourhood by transforming abandoned lots into landscaped gardens to which the entire community could contribute. The group then took to growing indoors, using vertical planting methods to transform the school into a truly hands-on learning experience.

The Power In Hands-On Learning

We live in a society where the bulk of the material taught to students in traditional education is founded in theory and repetition. I think back upon the 17+ years I spent in school and the amount of what I learned that I still know to this day is minimal, but what I do remember, for the most part, happened through collaboration. I remember the outreach projects I was a part of much more than the calculus equations I temporarily memorized to help myself get by in the course.

Stephen’s gardening project seems to be another example of the power in hands-on learning. As Stephen himself put it, “attendance has increased from 43% to 93%. Students come to school to take care of their plants – they want to see them succeed.” In my opinion, hands-on learning makes education an experience, something that not only tends makes learning interesting, but, when partnered with traditional education, can also build truly lasting knowledge.


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Changing Worldviews

What makes Stephen’s story even more remarkable is that he funded the initiative out of his own pocket. Driven by his love for humanity, Stephen has dedicated his work to raising healthy children, something he feels is much easier to do than attempting to fix broken adults.

How we eat is so critical to our development and well-being and, through living in a society dominated by nutritionally void processed foods, the value of fresh produce is being forgotten. Rather than inundating kids and parents with dietary facts and food scare tactics, Stephen believes the key to shifting our diet lies in being a part of the process of creating it.

“When kids learn about where their food comes from, it changes their world view… The ability to bring healthy, fresh food into schools and teach children that input equals output is absolutely spectacular.”

From Consumer to Producer

Now known as The Green Bronx Machine, Stephen and his students have begun to sell their plants to major stores in the community, partnering the produce with literature that builds awareness of the power in growing.

Through this learning experience, each student is given the tools to not only effectively garden, but also to transform their diet and the diets of friends, family, and loved ones, too.

I personally am very inspired by the work of Stephen Ritz and love seeing much it has already evolved. To learn more about this initiative, I encourage you all to check out their website, student-run Facebook page, and Stephen’s TED Talk.


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