Whole Kids Foundation works to amplify efforts that directly connect kids with the roots of their food, spark their curiosity and encourage healthier food choices. Our partner Green Bronx Machine (GBM) does that and more!

Housed in South Bronx’s Community School 55, the nonprofit is rooted in the belief that healthy students help drive healthy schools, and healthy schools become the heart of a healthy community. This vision resonates with other educators, and GBM has become one of the U.S.’s leading organizations inspiring children to grow vegetables and eat healthier while also giving them pathways for success in and out of the classroom.

We have had the pleasure of knowing GBM founder’s Stephen Ritz for a decade and are excited (but not surprised) to see that his efforts to build a healthy, equitable and resilient community through inspired education, the local food system and career exploration has grown from one school in the South Bronx to more than 500 classrooms around the globe.

Stephen is an educator and former principal with more than two decades in education. He has spent most of his professional life helping move students into spheres of academic and personal successes they may have never imagined possible.

He designed an immersive curriculum that aligns the art and science of growing vegetables with learning goals in science, math, literacy and more. The lessons are memorable, meaningful experiences that put students in the role of problem solvers. Ultimately, this project-based learning approach not only empowers students for personal success but also becomes an entry point for community and global citizenship.

Stephen and his students have grown more than 100,000 pounds of vegetables in the South Bronx, and, in the process, he moved school attendance at CS 55 from 40 percent to 93 percent daily before the pandemic and helped create thousands of youth jobs in the Bronx.

By transforming an empty library on the fourth floor of a 110-year old Bronx school building in the poorest congressional district in the U.S. into a thriving edible classroom, Stephen and the team at GBM have changed the definition of what is possible — even during a pandemic.

Learn more by checking out the Emmy Award-winning episode of “Growing a Greener World” on PBS, which spotlights GBM. Meet Stephen, take a tour of CS 55’s classroom gardens and cooking program, and get a glimpse of how this one-of-a-kind learning environment is transforming children’s lives. Then, read on to learn about Stephen’s reflections on 2020, GBM’s partnership with Whole Kids Foundation, and his call to action.

Stephen Ritz, Founder of Green Bronx Machine:

“2020 was the year that blew the roof off everything! We learned just how broken things are — justice, food systems, education systems, healthcare systems, even government. Trauma abounded everywhere. For years, things we took for granted or never thought about suddenly became front and center. One thing became certain; nothing is collectively more important than our children – especially when they are home with us 24/7! It will take a long time to heal and make our kids whole.

For years, it was easy — and preferable — to have our kids on schedule. Send them to school, table them in charts, rank their data, their standings, their test scores — until homes became schools and kitchen tables became classrooms!

The Bronx, 42 square miles, is our home and home to 1.2 million people. It is the New York City borough that has been hit the hardest by Covid-19. We had to immediately pivot. We got students gardening at home, providing fresh produce to families and turning our farms into WIFI hot spots so that students without access can connect to virtual learning.

Right in the middle of everything changing was Whole Kids Foundation — bridging food, education, nutrition, cities, justice, the environment — every aspect of our collective ecosystem together! At Green Bronx Machine, we like to say, "Compassion is the new curriculum" and no organization champions that better than Whole Kids Foundation. With their support, Green Bronx Machine and so many other organizations were able to adapt and grow our spheres of impact, progress, purpose and independence despite the challenges of 2020.

For so many, food is the problem. But for all of us, food is the solution. The most important school supply in the world is food. Now is the time for our children to become happy kids and whole kids; joyous kiddos who understand that they are part of living breathing ecosystems, that what they eat, what they learn, what they do, how they act and who they are matter in BIG, BIG, BIG, meaningful WAYS. And that we all share in that responsibility and have a critical part to play! I'm personally grateful to the Whole Kids Foundation for graciously stepping up to support so many organizations and so many initiatives across the nation — all interrelated to whole food, whole cities, a whole planet and whole kids! Whole Kids Foundation makes epic happen!

The work of and support from Whole Kids Foundation defines the integrity of purpose, the integrity of promise, the benefit of systemic solutions, and allows so many to be the light inside of their tunnel.

My recent talk at the VERGE conference reminded everyone that it all starts in schools, board rooms and with each and every one of us; that equity, opportunity and justice should be our common destinations and that compassion is the new curriculum.”

As Stephen referenced, the GBM team found innovative new ways to secure and distribute food to those who needed it most and to make gardening safe, social and responsible during 2020. In fact, they delivered food to students on Tuesdays, and held cooking classes on Zoom the next day! Check out a few of GBM’s milestones in 2020 that Whole Kids Foundation is honored to have supported.

Stephen says, “When you change food, you change everything.” We couldn’t agree more and look forward to cheering on GBM as they continue to use food as a tool to empower thousands of children to live healthier lives.

Interested in seeing how this approach can help your program? Explore Green Bronx Machine’s classroom curriculum and teacher resources.