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Green Bronx Machine: farm eco-start-up of a common teacher

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To perceive the world around, to study botany and biology in practice, to get the harvest and stable earnings – all this became possible for the schoolchildren of the South Bronx, in the educational institutions of which the Green Bronx Machine appeared.

A real revolution in the school life of New York students was made by the South Bronx school teacher Stephen Ritz, who became the author of an unusual invention – the Green Bronx Machine vegetable plant. The man was able to change literally everything: from the pupils’ attendance to the well-being of the whole district.

By the way, not so long ago the Bronx could easily be attributed to those “sad areas”, which are called “food deserts” by dietitians. This means that the residents here simply do not have the opportunity to buy healthy food. Therefore, they either eat fast food, or buy cheap products in tiny shops, the range of which is very far from useful. And poor nutrition, as is known, besides physical diseases, also causes psychological problems, especially if the child does not know whether he will be able to eat today.

As for the situation in the schools of the district, everything was also very, very deplorable. In the educational institution where Steven Ritz taught, violence and poverty prevailed, but even more there were very hungry children. 99% of Stephen’s wards needed free lunches.

It all began after Stephen received from the unknown benefactor a gift box with scions of daffodils. Without thinking twice, the man hid it in the classroom behind the battery, fearing that the children would find the scions and start throwing them at each other. Soon the bulbs sprouted and turned into flowers, and the process of their growth impressed the students. And Steve thought: if the children liked narcissus so much, they would probably like other plants too – like edible ones. In other words, children could grow their own food themselves at school.

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This was the beginning of the charitable organization Green Bronx Machine (in honour of which the machine was named), which teaches children and teens the basics of proper nutrition, gives them the opportunity to learn how to grow vegetables and greenery themselves, and even take the harvest home to share with the family. To date, thanks to this organization, not only in the Bronx, but also throughout New York, and in other cities in the United States, many school gardens and greenhouses have been created.

This allows students to eat better, and also creates jobs for teenagers. In addition, the performance of young gardeners has increased significantly, as well as attendance. In Steve’s class, it grew from 40% to 93%, and later all his students managed to pass the final exams successfully.

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The vegetable Green Bronx Machine is unusual in its structure and appearance, the main principle of its work is hydroponics. The invention is placed in school classrooms and allows providing a healthy diet for up to 450 pupils, while teaching them to grow vegetables. The products produced at the machine are used in a school café and allow healthy food to be provided all year round.

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At the moment, Stephen and his students have grown more than 20 tons of vegetables in the school, while achieving serious success in their studies – the guys especially loved biology and botany, had the opportunity to observe the plants and develop. Stephen Ritz himself says that for his students he has become something like Muhammad Ali or Luther Martin King – he has gained undeniable authority, his students love him and are ready to listen to everything the teacher tells them.

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Ritz’s work was also appreciated by the authorities: he won numerous awards, including a prize for achievements in health, ecology, nutrition, education, etc., and the national association of school principals praised the work of Stephen and his Green Bronx Machine project, setting it as an example and noting that this approach to learning should be looked up to. In addition to various organizations, Green Bronx Machine cooperates even with the White House and with the World Travel Fair, and Stephen’s machine for growing has been copied in the large US botanical garden.