The Green Bronx Machine, founded by South Bronx educator Stephen Ritz, is coming to Huntington, West Virginia.
Green Bronx Machine is “dedicated to cultivating minds and harvesting hope,” according to the organization’s website, which continues, “our school-based model using urban agriculture aligned to key school performance indicators grows healthy students and healthy schools to transform communities that are fragmented and marginalized into neighborhoods that are inclusive and thriving.”
Ritz was full of energy as he spoke in Huntington Thursday about the project and how it has transformed lives across the country.
“Children will never be well-read if they’re not well-fed,” Ritz said. “Eating across the rainbow is not a bag of skittles, damn it. It is healthy, fresh food.”
Green Bronx Machine is a curriculum that teaches students how to grow their own food anywhere, how to cook the food and how to make it into a viable business.
The model has been shared across the world and is now coming to Huntington through Stepping Stones Inc.
“Stepping Stones is a residential treatment facility for young men who are in the foster care system,” said Susan Fry, executive director of Stepping Stones. “We also do independent living, so as they’re aging out of the foster care system, we support them if they want to go to community college, if they want to go to Marshall, if they want to go to vocational school, we help and support them.”
Stepping Stones, located in Lavalette, West Virginia, has been working to help change the lives of youth in West Virginia since 1975. It is a “nationally accredited, fully licensed child welfare provider,” according to its website.
The added program to Stepping Stones’ facilities has been in the making for some time.
“It’s been 11 months ago we broke the ground, and we’re going to have a 1,200 square foot greenhouse that has in it 20 hyrdoponic towers,” Fry said.
The program will be opening new educational doors for young West Virginians.
“We connected with Stephen (Ritz) and the Green Bronx Machine, and through the West Virginia Department of Education, we are going to have an on-grounds options pathways program,” Fry said.
Fry said it is an opportunity for young people to receive their TASK, an adult education opportunity while in high school where members end up receiving their agriculture certification.
“We’re going to be using their whole system as part of their classroom,” Fry said. “They’re going to eat it themselves, learn how to cook healthy. They’re going to take home to their families. We’re going to give to the needy in the community. And they’re going to develop a social enterprise and make money, too.”
The program offers lessons that can be taken into the next aspect of students’ lives.
“They can take it beyond, and they can turn (it) into a career and just the business piece they learn, they can use in anything,” Fry said.
Fry said the organization encourages community engagement.
“We want volunteers,” Fry said. “We need help, we need support, we need people, we need finances, we need skills.”
The greenhouse ribbon was cut Friday, Nov. 15.
“My students are changing the meaning of ‘ho-ing’ in the streets,” Ritz said.
If interested in getting involved, community members may contact Stepping Stones at https://steppingstonestinyhomes.org/.
Brittany Hively can be contacted at [email protected]