The Bronx's Pied Piper of Peas | Civil Eats

The Bronx’s Pied Piper of Peas

Whatever you call him, Steve Ritz is an extraordinary example of how one person can make a difference.

He has two missions: The first is to get his Discovery High School students to grow and eat vegetables. The second is to ignite the Green Bronx Machine and get all of the borough residents to grow and eat healthy food. (Watch out for the soon-to-come Web site and meanwhile follow Green Bronx Machine on Facebook and Twitter.)

Ritz is fueled by the irony that although the Bronx is the distribution point for produce to all five boroughs, its residents have very little access to high quality, fresh vegetables.

“If my kids can’t buy good produce at the local supermarket, we’ll get them to grow it,” Ritz decides. And grow they do! Hundreds of pounds of it a year. Where? On the classroom walls.

Given a boost by the largesse of Boston-based Green Living Technologies, the students began growing vegetables on vertical shelves packed with earth. I saw the result last Friday when I attended a farmer’s market at the school.

Students, teachers, parents, and neighbors of the school were all shopping: bins were loaded with collards, peas, potatoes, tomatoes, scallions, and onions–and everyone was filling up their bags and heading to the front of the classroom to pay.

Have you ever seen a chalk board in front of a classroom listing vegetables and their prices? The sight gave me goosebumps. Can you imagine holding a weekly farmer’s market in classrooms all over the country?

The Discovery High School farmer’s market was a fantastic success. Steve Ritz wrote to me a few days after the event:

“We were very profitable, had over 500 visitors and folks from across NYC and NJ including State Senator Rivera and several other elected officials! Had we been able to have an EBT machine–we would have sold even more…

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“All the kids went home with bags of produce and after school we went to a local soup kitchen to donate the rest. All the edible plants and seedlings also went to local high-need communities and gardens and the Green Bronx Machine helped plant thru the weekend.

“…Watch the ABC TV Special on June 18, 7 PM–Above and Beyond–which features our program and of course, I hope you can join us in Manhattan on June 22; 6-9 PM at Cafe Iguana for the formal launch of Green Bronx Machine.”

In case you aren’t already convinced that there’s a Pied Piper in the Bronx, here’s Steve telling us about his passion for greening the Bronx and providing math skills, community, and career alternatives for Bronx youths at the same time:

Now listen to one of Steve’s students, Netali Soriano, telling us how much he loves growing vegetables and how tomatoes and avocados have become a personal favorites. Take note of his Green Bronx Machine T-shirt!

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Originally published on Lorna Sass At Large

Lorna Sass is the award-winning author of 15 cookbooks. She is passionate about healthy and sustainable cooking and edible gardens. You can read her blog here and her writing on Huffington Post here. She also writes for Organic Gardening and many other magazines, and does recipe development for Nature’s Path Foods and other organic companies. Read more >

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  1. Bill McCann
    Thank you Lorna, for the great article. It just cheers me up to hear about people that are getting a new generation involved in growing and maybe even cooking real food. The Bronx is a major distribution point for fruits and vegetables, and where I live is a major vegetable and fruit growing area, but junk food tends to be the order of the day here also. We all need a Steve Ritz in our comunity. Thanks again.

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