‘Green Bronx Machine' Uses Education to Grow Community Resilience During COVID-19

Green Bronx Machine, a nonprofit organization based in the South Bronx, strives to promote equity in the borough by establishing education and gardening centers throughout the community

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

What to Know

  • Green Bronx Machine aims to bring equity and justice to Bronx residents and other marginalized communities
  • The nonprofit served its community by distributing 100,000 pounds of food to residents in need.
  • Stephen Ritz, the founder of the organization, also launched a television series "Let's Learn NYC" to keep students engaged in virtual learning.

COVID-19 created a wave of trials for many communities and organizations throughout New York City. Yet, one nonprofit organization located in the South Bronx used the pandemic as an opportunity to build momentum for its mission to promote equity, education, health and wellness within the local community.

The Green Bronx Machine is a nonprofit organization utilizing urban agriculture and education to address issues related to food sovereignty and access within the Bronx through a series of initiatives that range from constructing community gardens to building serving food to food-insecure individuals. 

The organization started as an after-school program designed to give high school students an opportunity to earn living wage jobs and promote equity within the Bronx community.

“The GreenBronx Machine started with the simple belief that if people weren’t going to invite us at the table or seat us equitably at the table, we were just going to build our own,” said Stephen Ritz, founder of the organization and a native of the Bronx. 

The organization first relied on gardening to engage students and encourage school attendance. Ritz’s efforts, which increased school attendance rates and passing rates on New York state science exams, transformed the program into a grassroots movement that focuses on utilizing education to bring equity for marginalized communities. 

“We believe that high-performing schools are at the heart of high-performing communities,” said Ritz. “As I like to say, Green Bronx Machine grows vegetables, our vegetables grow students, our students grow schools, and our schools grow happy, healthy, and resilient communities.” 

Ritz was awarded the second annual Change Maker Award from the New York City Food Policy Center for the Green Bronx Machine’s response during the pandemic. The organization partnered with community residents, faith-based organizations, and other nonprofit organizations to implement a variety of initiatives that resolved issues related to food accessibility, hunger, and technology access in the Bronx.  

“In many ways, COVID presented a challenge of a lifetime, but it showed how quick and nimble and resourceful, dedicated community leaders and members could be,” said Ritz. “I couldn’t be more proud of our response.”

In many ways, COVID presented a challenge of a lifetime, but it showed how quick and nimble and resourceful, dedicated community leaders and members could be.

Stephen Ritz, founder of Green Bronx Machine

To alleviate the community’s growing need for food, the Green Bronx Machine purchased food from farmers and sourced it to schools where residents could retrieve the food. According to their website, the organization distributed 100,000 pounds of food from this initiative. 

As an educator, Ritz used his social media platforms to keep children engaged with virtual learning by reading them stories and establishing Zoom cooking classes. And for those who didn’t have access to the internet, Ritz together with his wife, transformed their organization’s outdoor gardens into community hot spots and delivered devices to families in need. 

“We accessed hundreds of devices for parents who couldn’t and children who didn’t know where to turn and made sure that every single person in the program and every single child that reached out had access to a device, ” said Ritz.

The organization recently partnered with WNET and New York City Public Schools to produce, “Let’s Learn NYC,” a television series that airs on PBS. 

“People are looking for the next Mr. Rodgers, the next Bill Nye, so why not the guy in the cheese hat who loves children and wants everyone to eat vegetables,” said Ritz.

While the show is virtual, through it children can explore an onset of subjects from learning how to dance with Mr. Met to exploring mammals at the American Museum of natural history. Yet, despite the wide span of topics, the show ultimately returns to Ritz’s original message of promoting healthy habits.

“We encourage students to be healthy because the best way to build imminuty is to eat fruits and vegetables.” 

New York City Schools will let out for the summer this Friday, but as the Green Bronx Machine will remain open throughout the season, offering summer camps, airing additional episodes of “Let’s Learn NYC,” and supporting their community garden that feeds residents in need. 

“[This is an] opportunity to celebrate our community and change the narrative of what is possible out of the Bronx,” said Ritz. “Everything we’re doing here is about people power... I believe being hyper-local and hyper-connected is the best kind of success of all.”

Copyright NBC New York
Contact Us