Green Bronx Machine Feeds and Educates the Bronx


Stephen Ritz (center) founded Green Bronx Machine to help school kids learn about nutrition and growing their own food. (Courtesy of Green Bronx Machine)

Lucy Peterson, Contributing Writer

Green Bronx Machine, a “for-purpose” organization, is growing its way to a brighter future at the National Health & Wellness Center located at Community School 55 in the South Bronx, just miles from Fordham University.

CEO of Green Bronx Machine Stephen Ritz, self-proclaimed as a “Chief Eternal Optimist of Bronx County,” calls himself an “accidental success.” A lifelong Bronx educator, Ritz said he “believes that the Bronx is filled with amazing people and wonderful places and we need to celebrate them.”

Green Bronx Machine carries out this mission through a wide variety of projects and innovative tactics, leaving a worldwide impact.
Ritz says Green Bronx Machine originally started as an afterschool program “with over-age and under-credited children, some of the most marginalized kids in New York City.” The program has since expanded into a K-12+ school model built from a completely original curriculum that is now available for implementation in schools around the world. Green Bronx Machine utilizes agriculture and gardening practices in the classroom not only to teach kids about healthy eating in marginalized communities, where natural and organically produced foods are hard to come by, but also lessons in science, math and other subjects.

According to the Green Bronx Machine website, the Bronx community “has some of New York State’s highest per capita rates of childhood obesity, diabetes, heart disease, chronic unemployment, food insecurity and food stamp recipients.” Through the implementation of health-based learning, Ritz said he hopes to “redefine the narrative that is the Bronx and redefine what is possible.”

The website highlights the organization’s achievements, including “moving targeted daily attendance rates from 40% to 93%, 100% passing rates on New York State examinations and partnering towards 2,200 youth jobs.”

Ritz refers to himself as “the children’s champion” and “the number one cheerleader for the Bronx borough.” He started his career at South Bronx High School and said that he has “always had an ability to connect with people and build relationships.”

Although the scale of Green Bronx Machine has grown to sustain a worldwide impact, Ritz said the organization has not lost sight of its fundamental mission that focuses on making a direct impact on the lives of local community members, especially children.

“Our humble little program has gone from one school in the Bronx to over 500 across America and we’re not doing it with a huge budget, we’re not doing it through the power of paid social media and PR consultants – we’re doing it by doing the work,” said Ritz.

While Ritz supports the tremendous work of nonprofit organizations, he says that children are “often used as epicenters of profit in communities like ours.” However, he said Green Bronx Machine strives to make fundamental, hands-on change.

“If you’re not adding value to the institutions you’re serving, in many ways, you are detracting value from them,” Ritz said. “You’ve got people making hundreds of thousands of dollars running nonprofits in the Bronx that are wholly dependent on interfacing with public education and public schools but really are not a part of it, they’re just getting fed off of it.”

Ritz said Green Bronx Machine recognizes that lasting change requires more than surface level impact. He believes that “children are far more than the sum of their data on a spreadsheet,” and are in many ways “victims of an education system that has failed them.” Ritz said that when he first started, the goal of Green Bronx Machine was “to simply impact the people directly surrounding him.” Since then, Green Bronx Machine has impacted thousands of students worldwide and continues to win numerous awards each year, including the 2021 Social Innovation Award.

Green Bronx Machine responded to COVID-19 by “help[ing] feed 2,300 people daily, [growing] over 5,000 pounds of local Bronx food, host[ing] more than 200 digital lessons and deliver[ing] food weekly to 30 cancer patients and 55 vulnerable patients” in the Bronx community, according to the Green Bronx Machine website.

In order to feed the local Bronx community, which suffered from high rates of COVID-19, Green Bronx Machine purchased excess produce from around the country that would otherwise have gone to waste.

“We used the school as a staging ground to store all the food, filling grocery bags with fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Ritz. “I don’t see challenges, I see opportunity.”

Green Bronx Machine is currently in the process of acquiring rights to their recent documentary “Generation Growth,” which provides a deeper look into the people and stories that have shaped the nonprofit. Ritz said they are “thrilled to share the documentary that has won countless awards already.” Ritz said he hopes the documentary film is able to inspire viewers to take action.

“Anything is possible,” he said. “We have the power to change lives overnight, [the question is] do we have the appetite and collective will?”
Ritz said he urges Fordham students “to go beyond the campus into the community.”

“There is treasure in Fordham’s backyard,” Ritz said.

Ritz emphasized the fact that it doesn’t take much to get involved in the organization. “Children who have access to one kind, caring adult will succeed in life,” he said. “So I’m asking the people at Fordham to not give back, but to pay it forward.”