During this month, Mr. Steven Ritz visited our school and had a chance to attend two assemblies with the middle school students. He started his own green initiative, the Green Bronx Machine, in the South Bronx. He has also encouraged us to start our own initiative to start an aquaponic system, which is led by Mr. Randall Siefker.
Visit the Green Bronx Machine website for more information. https://greenbronxmachine.org/
We had a chance to interview Mr. Ritz during his time at AIS
Can you give us a brief introduction about yourself?
“So, my name is Stephan Ritz, and I am the founder of the ‘Green Bronx Machine.’ I grow vegetables in New York City with children all around the world, and I believe the art and science to growing vegetables aligned to quality education and academic outcomes can change the world.”
How long have you been a principle?
“So presently I am not a principle. I received my principal’s license in 2009.”
What inspired you to help your community and how did you come to planting?
“So what inspires me to help my community, is I believe in my heart that people should not have to leave their community to live, learn, and earn in a better one. And if we could move people who are apart from success to becoming a part of success, we can create a multiplier effect so that together, everyone can prosper and that’s what this is about. For me, it’s about growing something great.”
“How I came to planting, was that I had no idea what vegtables and plants were. So when students presented this opportunity to me, and they were interested, I wanted to honor them and as long as I figured out a way to incorporate it to a greater good that had a health outcome and a healthy school outcome, to me it made a lot of sense! And now look, 220 jobs later, here we are…and we’re just getting started. That is AWESOME SAUCE!”
You’ve mentioned that you’ve experienced a lot of pain in your life. How did you turn that around?
“For sure. So, yes I have experienced a lot of pain, but pain is part of growth. But if you let pain define you….I don’t want to live a life in pain. I do not want to live a life in anger, regret, sorrow and self pity. So I believe, that many people are suffering greater pains than me. But if the power of example of my life to be resilient, to step forward, and to accept the tragedy that has been done to me, but to turn it into an opportunity to honor those or to honor the problem that caused it and to remediate it, to me is incredibly exciting.”
Can pain sometimes be considered a good thing? How?
“So, pain can be… well pain is never a good thing. But too much pleasure is definitely not a good thing. So pain is what keeps us honest. Hopefully there’s not too much pain in anybody’s life. However, pain is what can push you as a person to do something great. You can either succumb to it or you could use it as a launching pad to look deep within yourself and find the strength, conviction, and motivation to never want to feel that bad again and if you can never feel that bad again….guess what? You’re only going to feel better. And along the way if you can put people on your shoulder and carry more people on the journey with you, you are uplifting not only yourself …but the world.”
When you started the planting activity in your school, how did you find the materials and resources?
“So, when I started the planting in my school, I didn’t even know what it was! Someone sent me a box of daffodil bulbs, of flower bulbs, and I didn’t even know what they were. So sometimes the opportunity is right in front of you, you just need to open your eyes and accept it. But, literally, I started small. I started with what I call a small concentric circle of success, a freak accident, an opportunity and really looked at it like something that could be so much more, and literally learned to grow just like a seed from a little plant, to a bigger plant, to a tree.”
How did your students feel about it when it was just an idea?
“Well some of my students thought I was crazy, I’m not gonna lie. But some of it was reflective of their own creativity. So I think that when you give students choice, you give them voice, and when you give them voice and allow them to be heard, they speak truths and I want every child to be able to feel comfortable to tell the truth, and grow within that truth and for me children are like seeds. They need some love, fresh air, water, and sun and a whole lot of nurture so they can grow into something bigger than they ever imagined. You know plants are like people. They’re living, breathing things, and when we learn that we are part of a larger interconnected ecosystem: that little things add up to big things, and bigger things add up to greater things, that we all have a role in the world to play, we as a society are healthier. Realize this, now more than ever, that at this digital age, this cellphone age, and the age of internet, iphones, ipads, robots, and minecraft and everything else that is out there, when you teach children about nature, you teach them to nurture. When we teach children to nurture, we as a society collectively embrace our better nature. And that’s what it’s about. It’s about human ecology, it’s about rolling and sowing seeds of change that can change the world for a greater global good. One student at a time, on classroom at a time, one school at a time, one community at a time. It is the power of passion, purpose, and hope. And remember that passion, purpose, and hope will get you very close to the finish line and sometimes you just gotta take that big leap of faith and jump into the end zone, and it is that simple. MAKE EPIC HAPPEN!”
How did you manage to inspire them and make them own your idea?
“So, my students inspire me! It is very funny, you guys think I inspire you but when I stand up there and see all these beautiful bright shining faces, happy students, and wonderful teachers….I’m inspired. And if my experience, my strength, and hope can help you guys do something great…..WOW, thats awesome. If you guys learn that I have had some real pain in my life and real challenges….and guess what? I can do it and I can overcome it, so can you! Well, that makes me more honest to myself and makes me want to work that much harder. Every day that I get up and put my feet on the ground, put some air in my lungs, and put my head up towards the sun, is an opportunity to grow, is an opportunity to do something great, and is an opportunity to make epic happen! Because nothing’s promised, so every day is an opportunity to do something great and I want to share that with everybody and I want everybody to share that with me.”
What do you think is the secret of human power?
“Oh, people power, I love people power. Listen, here we are in Egypt! The cratel of history, the land of the pyramids and the Sphinx. That was built by people power. There was no iPhone. There was no computer. There was no laptop, and today one of my favorite parts of the assembly is when we had a blackout. I don’t know if you were there, but there power went dead. The whole room went dark; no one could see anything. I realized out of darkness will come light. So, technology is not going to save the world; people will. It’s that collaborative human spirit of people wanting to do something great, that makes epic happen. The tools that we have are only as good as the people who use them. You know, we need to realize that we need to love people, and use things; not love things, and use people. That’s what people power is all about.
Would you like to say something to students at AISE?
“What would I love to say? I love you all! Thank you for making me feel so welcome, so much a part of. You know, we are living in a time where all you students are trying to add days to your life, but all of you, and all of the wonderful students who are watching, you all add life to my days. For that, I am forever greatful, and I love you, and I say thank you, and I appreciate you.”
“Make epic happen! It’s on you. Anything boys can do, girls can do better. Can’t stop, won’t stop!”
Thank you Mr. Steven Ritz for spending some time with us!
By Jana Mahmoud