Remember when President Jimmy Carter visited the blighted south
Bronx, with the result that images of burned-out houses and trash-stewn
lots flashed across TV screens all over the nation? That visit and the
movie, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, created an indelible image
of the Bronx as a hopeless borough riddled with crime and despair.
Enter Steve Ritz, a teacher at Discovery High School who figured out a way
to help turn all that around by teaching his students to grow
vegetables on walls. Yes, vegetables on walls.
Ritz has figured out how to grow good food, good jobs
and good citizens by tapping into one of our greatest wasted
resources–urban youth. And he’s doing it in Hunts Point, a
quintessential “food desert” that, ironically, just happens to also be
one of the world’s largest food distribution centers; 2.7 billion
pounds of fresh produce from 49 states and 55 foreign countries passes
through Hunts Point’s New York City Terminal Market annually on its way
to more affluent neighborhoods.
On June 3 Ritz orchestrated a huge “School Garden to School Cafe”
event where the teens cooked and served 450 healthy organic meals with
vegetables grown by them from seeds on classroom walls and in
containers. Well, that’s one mighty fine way to make sure that high
quality vegetables get eaten right in the Bronx! No surprise that Ritz
was recently awarded an EPA Environmental Quality Award.
How did Ritz manage to grow truckloads of organic vegetables indoors
with virtually no equity but sweat equity? One thing he did was partner
with a for-profit enterprise called Green Living™ Technologies,
a pioneering developer of cutting edge urban agricultural systems.
George Irwin, CEO of Green Living™ Technologies and a man with a big
heart and a vision as huge as Ritz’s, contributed all of the building
materials for the grow wall.
As Ritz points out, before they started growing their own on
classroom walls, these teens had no easy access to fresh vegetables.
And when kids grow their own vegetables, they want to eat them–so
improved nutrition is a built-in bonus when teens become vegetable
And there are other bonuses as well: Gardening not only improved
class attendance from 40% to 93%, but has also resulted in the
startling fact that 100% of the gardening teens achieved passing grades
on the state Regents exams in math and science.
On April 27th, at the magnificent Art Deco Bronx County Courthouse,
I was privileged to witness Bronx Borough President, Ruben Diaz, Jr.
present ten of Ritz’s students with graduation certificates for
completing the Green Living™ Technologies training program in green
wall and green roof maintenance and installation. The training was
co-sponsored by Boston Cityscapes
and held in Boston. According to Irwin, “These students are the
youngest in America to obtain such living wage certifications by GLT in
an emerging and green industry.”
At the graduation ceremony, Ritz talks about how he and the teens made this all happen and shows some slides of the process.
If you appreciated this article, please consider making a donation to Axis of Logic.
We do not use commercial advertising or corporate funding. We depend solely upon you,
the reader, to continue providing quality news and opinion on world affairs.Donate here