Stephen Ritz is growing a Green Bronx Machine in an old library at PS 55 in the Bronx. With his enthusiastic students, fresh thinking and hard work, the underutilized library transformed into the National Health and Wellness Center at Public School 55. Stephen’s machine utilizes the urban farming concept known as “aeroponics;” a plant-cultivation technique whereby plants are grown vertically (to maximize growing space), and their roots receive nutrients via a rich mist instead of soil. While slightly less messy, this method of urban farming is still heavily hands-on, and brains-on, for skillful cultivation and exponential growth.
More than just farming equipment, the Green Bronx Machine is a sophisticated engine for learning. Students come to understand the science of growing food, as well as its nutritional benefits and methods for preparation and cooking. The former library cum classroom offers tools for the measurement of electricity, lighting and water, a computer station to conduct research and analyze data, and a mobile kitchen to practice food preparation techniques. The highly-collaborative National Health and Wellness Center is expertly designed, and fully intentioned, to grow more than just plants. Fresh salads and vegetables, served with pride, self-confidence and success appear in PS 55’s school cafeteria, student’s home kitchens, and across the neighborhood all while generating outstanding academic performance in school.
Nominated for the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize - the Nobel Peace Prize of Teaching - and Recipient of the 2015 TedxManhattan Award, Stephen whole-heartedly believes that healthy students achieve higher academic success, which in turn helps to drive healthy schools, and that healthy schools are at the heart of healthy communities. Inclusive, thriving and 100% beneficial to all of society, Stephen envisions a world where the Green Bronx Machine will support “a world where people do not have to leave their community to live, learn, and earn in a better one.”
The conversion of the library into the leafy green mecca was designed by KSS Architects. “We are thrilled to contribute to such an exciting and truly transformative venture,” states Partner Merilee Meacock. ”Our experience in working with AeroFarms, the Newark, New Jersey-based market leader in aeroponic agriculture, enables us to readily lend our expertise to the accomplishment of Stephen’s and his students’ endeavor. Our deep experience in the design of learning environments is an additional skill that we bring to the table. Ultimately, we share Stephen’s vision and enthusiasm for creating such meaningful change in both local communities and beyond.”