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How can urban agriculture transform students, schools, health outcomes and communities in marginalised neighbourhoods?

Green Bronx Machine

Marker United States
Green Bronx Machine builds healthy, equitable and resilient communities through inspired education, local food systems, and 21st century workforce development. Students can change how they eat, live and learn to change outcomes and trajectories for their community and all generations.

What is the Green Bronx Machine?

Stephen Ritz
“We grow vegetables. Our vegetables grow students, schools, communities and opportunities.”

Stephen Ritz, Founder of Green Bronx Machine

The Bronx is the least healthy county in New York State, with the highest rates of childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Most children qualify for free school meals and their families are in receipt of food stamps. These serious levels of food insecurity contribute to decreased engagement in school. Moreover, there is a need for school improvement and teacher training. High levels of absence lead to low rates of high school graduation and chronic unemployment.

Green Bronx Machine is a radical organisation that evolved from an after-school programme to a full K12 model integrated into the core curriculum. By transforming an under-utilized school library into a Wellness Centre, creator Stephen Ritz teaches students about the art and science of growing vegetables indoors with low cost replicable technology.

The Wellness Centre is placed at the heart of a community school and all students have the opportunity to learn in the garden. As well as sessions before and after school, classes are timetabled to attend the Green Bronx Machine as part of their normal school day. Children who don’t always want to be taught change their attitudes because of the environment they’re in.

The Green Bronx Machine shows that healthy students help drive healthy schools. Students learn to grow, cook and eat vegetables at the indoor teaching garden, while getting outstanding daily instruction in core content areas. Guided by the Green Bronx Machine Classroom Curriculum, teachers have access to state-of-the-art lessons and resources that support growing and learning in class. Through this hands-on education, students have lost weight and reduced sugar intake, as well as developing resilience and a positive attitude to school.

As health has improved, so too has learning and school performance. Attendance has dramatically increased from 40% to 93%. The multi-award winning programme is aligned with maths, science and writing, and has seen pass rates on state science exams improve by 45%.

Not only has the Green Bronx Machine had an incredible impact on school performance, but it has also had a positive effect on the wider community. In a neighbourhood where fresh vegetables are expensive and hard to come by, students are taking home bags of groceries every week.

Green Bronx Machine has received several awards and acknowledgments, such as Best of Green School Award and the New York Strategic Alliance Award of Excellence.

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Intended Outcomes
Target Group
Resources Needed
At least one person is needed to implement the programme, along with space for a garden and gardening tools. The programme works in nine-week cycles aligned to growth cycles of edible plants.
HundrED Criteria
Green Bronx Machine grows enough food in the classroom to feed a whole school all year long. It is a living, breathing classroom where plants and food are everywhere.
Students can change how they eat, live and learn to change outcomes and trajectories for their community and all generations. Green Bronx Machine has seen improved exam pass rates (for example, an increase of 45% for the New York State Science exam), improved attendance (from 40% to 93%) and reduced behavioural incidents (down by 50%).
The model is highly scalable. Food is non-negotiable - everybody has to eat! Several countries have started using the lesson plans or developing versions of the Green Bronx Machine. There are 10 mini-centres in Canada and Stephen Ritz is advising a school in Dubai on the creation of a Wellness Centre.

See this innovation in action.

Green Bronx Machine - The Power of a Plant
Green Bronx Machine: national health and wellness center at PS 55 | Stephen Ritz | TEDxManhattan


Inspired to implement this? Here's how...

Identify a school champion
Start with the basics - find a teacher or programme manager who wants to grow something great!
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Secure support from school administration
Work out what support will be needed from school administration and devise a plan to secure that support.
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Build out the physical space
Find somewhere perfect for growing vegetables and set it all up.
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Get to work with the Green Bronx Machine Classroom Curriculum
The Classroom Curriculum contains nine weeks of instruction across all content and subject areas.
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Analyse, record and share results
Keep track of how the garden is coming along and how the students are progressing.
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Connect with the innovator

Stephen Ritz
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