The Bronx Gardener: Changing Landscapes and Mindsets


Big Bear Lake, CA, February 9, 2014 – The Big Bear Lighthouse Project’s Vision Summit is something hundreds of people look forward to every year. In fact, it sold out in 2013, headlined as it was by the bestselling author and farming philosopher Joel Salatin, whose mission is to “develop economically, environmentally and emotionally enhancing agricultural enterprises and facilitate their duplication throughout the world.” For this year’s Summit, the Lighthouse Project has chosen a keynote speaker who’ll build on Salatin’s message that healing the food system can also heal communities.

Stephen Ritz–aka “The Bronx Gardener”–is a green innovator, social entrepreneur and a featured educator in a book released last fall called American Teacher: Heroes in the Classroom. His work has been featured on TNT, Today, ABC, CNN and Forbes, and he has a green education and innovation blog on the Huffington Post.

Ritz says the biggest bullies in school are junk food items like mac-and-cheese, popcorn and potato chips, soda and sugary drinks masquerading as juices. But he didn’t just complain about them, he taught his students how to grow vegetables in classrooms, then he taught others to do so. His classroom’s “edible wall” routinely generates enough produce to feed healthy meals to 450 students. and his extended student and community network have now grown more than 30,000 pounds of vegetables in the Bronx.

The process has engaged Ritz’s students so much that daily attendance has risen from 40 percent to 93 percent, with improved academic performance. It’s also created 2,200 youth jobs as part of the youngest nationally certified workforce in America, providing living wages on the way to graduation. And by eating what he and his students grow, Ritz has lost 100 pounds and gained numerous accolades. They include:

* US EPA Award for transforming mindsets and landscapes in NYC
* ABC Above and Beyond Award
* 2012 Chevrolet National Green Educator Award
* Citywide Award of Excellence from the NYC Strategic Alliance for Health­ for creating a healthy school environment
* Green Apple Education Ambassadorship for the U.S. Green Building Council
* Designation of the “Green Bronx Machine” as one of five national exemplars of service learning by the National Association of Secondary School Principals

He is currently working on embedding the concepts of sustainability and environmental justice into K-12 programming and beyond, to instill in the next generation the value of creating “self sustaining local economic engines.”

The Big Bear Lighthouse Project presents their next Vision Summit on April 9, 2014 at the Big Bear Lake Performing Arts Center. Free tickets are available by emailing your name and the number of tickets you’d like to BigBearLighthouse@gmail.com.

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