Thursday, October 29, 2015

Can daffodils bloom behind a radiator?

Steve Ritz was a veteran school teacher when his family suffered great personal tragedy, losing two children. He decided to convert his grief into helping other kids, and transferred to one of the most troubled schools in South Bronx, NY, where violence, poverty, and hunger reduced the graduation rate to only 17%. Ninety-nine percent of his students qualified for free lunch and many are homeless. He wanted to help, but wasn't sure how until someone sent him a box of daffodil bulbs. Afraid that students would toss them around the room, he hid them behind a radiator. Later someone noticed the bulbs had grown into beautiful flowers! This "miracle" helped inspire him to start The Green Bronx Machine, a non-profit devoted to growing healthy food. So far, he and his students have grown 30,000 pounds of healthy food on roofs and in classrooms all over New York City.

"My kids can get a handgun quicker than they can get an organic tomato," he says. "When they get involved with nature and learn to nurture, they feel good about themselves. I always tell kids that if they bring their body, their brain will follow. And if they show up, they grow up."

Students get to eat the food they grow and share it with their hungry families. They learn farming and food production, but there's an interesting side effect. The attendance rate in his class went from 40% to 93%, and his students now earn 100% passing rates on New York State Examinations. PS 55 has donated an old library with lots of sunlight to create a learning center for his students. It will contain an indoor teaching farm, a teaching kitchen, a computerized media center and an indoor community farm big enough to send 100 students home with bags of fresh vegetables every week -- 52 weeks a year. All from daffodils that bloomed behind a radiator.

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