Polygreens Podcast

023: Stephen Ritz - Green Bronx Machine

April 23, 2021 Joe Swartz & Nick Greens Season 1 Episode 23
Polygreens Podcast
023: Stephen Ritz - Green Bronx Machine
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Show Notes Transcript

In this episode Joe and Nick interview Stephen Ritz about urban farming and growing food in classrooms.

Stephen Ritz is a South Bronx educator who believes that students shouldn’t have to leave their community to live, learn, and earn in a better one. Moving generations of students into spheres of personal and academic successes which they had never imagined — while reclaiming and rebuilding the Bronx — Stephen’s extended student and community family have grown more than 100,000 pounds of vegetables in the Bronx while generating extraordinary academic performance.

More about Stephen Ritz:
Website: https://stephenritz.com

More about Joe Swartz:
Website: https://amhydro.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/HydroConsultant

More about Nick Greens:
Website: https://www.nickgreens.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/InfoGreens

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Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode of the Polygreens Podcast. I'm Joe Swartz from Am Hydro, along with my friend and colleague Nick greens of the Nick greens grow team. And we've got an amazing guest today. Buckle your seat belts. We're going to have some fun today. Um, we have a world renowned author, a world-class educator, an all around amazing guy.

I don't know what he probably doesn't sleep. Uh, Stephen Ritz, um, founder of the greens Bronx machine. Author of the power of the plant. Uh, just an amazing teacher, amazing guy. Uh, Steve, welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for joining us today. Hello, Joe. Hello, Nick. Look at that screen saver backdrop, man.

Look at that great house behind you. It gets me so excited. I literally want to wet my plants. Let's jump in and talk, man, but nominal. Awesome. Well, anybody in the controlled environment I industry and the educational industry, I'm sure knows a lot about you, but tell us a little bit about yourself. Um, kind of where you started, how you got involved in this whole crazy, uh, experience that you were in the middle of literally, you know, Let me be clear.

I have no science background, you know, I've said it, whether it was the first time in 10 years, you've done a Ted talk. I am not a farmer, you know, 10 years ago. I couldn't tell you 10 kinds of plants. But I literally saw an opportunity to connect the most disconnected children in America with living wage opportunities.

And that's how I got involved in the green space and then ultimately migrated over towards food. But I'll back up a little bit and tell you, you know, 10 years ago, I took over a program at the most dangerous high school in America. To give you some context, do you want written 56? Felonies in the building in a year, uh, 18 armed police guards, 48 deans of discipline in school safety agents.

Just imagine what that cost is, and that's not teaching people. That's a million dollars in salary just to make sure that we didn't have more than 256 felonies per year in the building. And literally I was charged with teaching some of the most disconnected children, science of all things. I have no science background.

So I put out this frantic call on the internet. Uh, somebody help, I've got 18 kids and they want me to teach science WTF. Should I do send me a microscope, send me a telescope, send me something. And, uh, you know, I went back to the class and about. Three weeks later, I get a call, you know, my classroom over the loudspeaker, Mr.

Ritz, Carlton, Terry, that principal's office please. And the kid's like, yeah, he's quitting, he's fired. They faffed out, you know, I'm like, Oh Jesus, what am I in trouble for? I walk in and there's this huge box on a principal's desk. It goes, Mr. It's this thing. He came by a ups it's for you. And I'm like, yeah, thank you, Jesus.

You know, the internet works. Someone sent me something. I was so excited and like a kid on Christmas, I rip open the box in front of the principal and inside things that look like onions. And I'm like, you know, WTF exactly your face, Joe. I don't know if people are going to see this podcast, it's a podcast, so they won't see you.

But exactly. I'm like, what the hell is this kid? Don't throw this at me. And I walk out of the Grinch and I had no idea what they were. I walked out of the principal that I was with my head between my legs, carrying this box, like a moron walk back to my classroom, throw the box behind a six foot radiator behind the window.

And forgot about it and literally forgot about it. Uh, about six, eight weeks later, fast forward, it's getting close to the end of, uh, November and there's a fight in the class. Some skinny kid makes a joke about a girl's mother. The girl, two sleeves of tattoos piercing gets up and starts running a clock across the classroom.

And in slow motion, I say my career. Is over well, the judge in this skinny little kid sticks his hand under the radio, or, and then like my career is really over. And all of a sudden he comes out with a handful and yet big yellow flowers. I went, what is this? The whole class is looking stunned. It was like magic.

It turns out that that box of onions was actually a box of daffodil boats. And people had sent me then the heat. And the leak from the water in this dysfunctional bill made everything burst in bloom. It was like a false start and the kids looked inside the box and there are hundreds and hundreds of flowers and the kids, the boys were like, let's give these to the girls and try and get sex.

And the girls are like, no, let's take them and sell them. And then we read inside the box and there was an invitation to come plant and do some parks works to commemorate, you know, the, the nine 11 tragedy that we had, this is going back many years. And so it turns out that year, me and my gang member, kids wound up planting, I think about twenty-five thousand bulbs across New York city to commemorate nine 11.

And we started a green teen movement taking over lots, um, taking over, um, rooftops and just planting basically to take unproductive. Space and turn it into aspirational, congregational space, you know, just kind of urban renovation. And it was really rather remarkable. And it came at the time when mayor Bloomberg was offering incentives for green roofs and really this nascent green industry storm water mitigation, um, was really, really popular.

And then, you know, simultaneously. I was realizing that a lot of my kids are eating out of soup kitchens. A lot of us didn't have access to food in our community. So a lot of these kids were getting food elsewhere and I got invited to take my kids to. Whole kit. The first whole foods opened up in Manhattan and we were invited to the first whole foods and realize, you know, we had no idea where food came from.

Most of us had never been in a supermarket. We shop out of bodegas, we walked into whole foods and got drunk on tomatoes. You know, we literally saw the bounty of produce, um, in front of us. And we couldn't believe that you could grow this kind of stuff. You know, we didn't know who knew. And you know, my kid, it was really funny because like the whole food security was following so all around the store and you know, anyone of my kids could have farted that guy away, uh, you know, much less really have a, make an impact.

But the remarkable thing is it really taught my kids that, you know, we can sell this stuff. And a lot of them had been in prison for selling other things that grew on the earth and smaller plastic bags. And, you know, we saw a nice white people spending cash and credit card. And we said, wow, this can be something amazing.

And it was through the grace of whole foods and the whole kids foundation that we started learning about growing food. And we literally took, started taking ornamental gardens and turning them into food, producing gardens. And then whole kids in whole foods allowed us to start selling our food at whole foods, you know, in certain controlled marketed events.

And you know, now our 115,000 pounds of vegetables later in the South Bronx, you know, here I am growing vegetables and growing kids. And then we wound up giving a talk. I brought those 18 kids, um, who many of them had prior, um, infractions with the law related to other things. And we gave a talk called from crack to cucumbers, where I introduced 18 kids who were formerly selling Narcan.

Kardex across Washington Heights, Harlem, and the South Bronx who are now selling vegetables and growing gardens, then it was game changing. And then the craziest thing is through our dear common colleague, uh, Varage Puri over at Gotham greens, we got invited to dopamine greens and saw this outrageous greenhouse on top of a roof.

And we were all like chucking and literally, you know, Varage is greatest gift to me this day to this day remains his capacity and his time. And Mirage, if you're listening, I want to say thank you. I love you. I appreciate you. And know, six months later, we won the national indoor gardening championship sponsored by maximum yield.

And so all these kids out of the South Bronx, we get invited on an all expense paid trip out to California. And this is like Hollywood, man. You can't make this thing up. You know, kids in gardens and jobs, and now we're winning prey prizes and going planes. And I get to San Francisco and look at that warehouse.

And I see a bunch of farmers with crazy piercings in their ears and titanium glasses and men, you know, San Francisco is that beautiful city by the Bay, but there was a whole lot of fog rolling in around that conference. And the minute I walked in. I realized, Holy crap, this isn't farming. This is weed.

And you know, all these kids turned around and they're like, Mr. , you are the coolest teacher in the world. And I had no idea and I'm like, man, this is where I'm really going to lose my job. You know, look at all these kids in the middle of a week conference. So we huddled the masses. I begged them, you know, to please let's be smart, let's be safe.

Let's learn. And literally, um, you know, we're wandering and we're looking at growing closets, we're looking at all kinds of technology. I'm wondering the room and I see this thing called a tower garden in the back. And I'm like, you know, that thing, he's amazing. I'm going to put it in classrooms. And, uh, that's how the whole thing started.

And now, you know, thousands of classrooms later. Here we are, uh, doing what we do, the green Bronx machine and our clean green Bronx machine curriculum touching 50,000 students across America, each and every day. Wow, unbelievable. Wow. Seed. Well planted man. It's nuts. We're going to start having to send daffodil bulbs out, all that to more teachers all around who knew really who knew.

Unbelievable. That was a previous thing. Is this, those daffodil kids in those bulbs? You know, we did such a good job that the city council invited us down and started like, man, this is a great opportunity. So I had everyone get cleaned up, you know, do their hair and makeup and put on a shirt and everyone thought we were the honors program.

It was hilarious. But what it really speaking to their city council would have never had these kids in city hall on a given day, but they Rose to the occasion. And this is what this really speaks to. Don't talk to me about education. If you're not talking to me about opportunity because no child rises to low expectations.

And the beauty of this work, particularly for our kids and for my community is that we grow something greater. The patient's fortitude and time that it takes to nurture a plant to that beautiful moment where it's either ready to harvest, or you just want to sit there and look at it forever and hope. No one touches it, um, requires a kind of patience and understanding and empathy.

Whereas I like to say in our new documentary called generation growth, you can't rush growth. It teaches you that time is a thing I must earn and that, you know, Everything is a living cycle, and you've got to respect that. And along the way, some of the toughest kids are really coming to embrace their inner humanity through the art and science and growing plants.

Some of the most disconnected students I've ever had in my life are now working, working for Varage, working in the industry. We have a commercial greenhouse in the heart of Appalachia run by foster care youth. I wheelchair farms across the city, but most of the durably I've got little children, um, you know, in communities that don't even know what food is, you know, demanding a rugala an eggplant for lunch.

You know, knowing what food is, where it comes from understanding that the water in their toilet bowls is the water that falls from the heaven is the water that nourishes their plans stay on the next generation. Of environmental and social justice advocates. So it's game changing and the nutritional changes that we've been able to see in their diet.

You know, every time I keep a burger out of a kid's belly, um, and replace it with a banana or a salad, think about what that means for that child's health and for the planet's health. So it's really kind of exciting. Wow. Yeah. Oh my gosh. Yeah, the disconnect is, is incredible. Um, we did, uh, the Arbor house farm, which is a rooftop in the Bronx with a company called sky vegetables back in 2011.

And the, the community was amazing. I mean, these are people that never saw commercial farming never saw much for green plants. And as you said, Uh, all the grocery shopping was at a bodega and we had some young students from some of the local schools and we were having this conversation and, um, and, and they were amazed with growing plants.

And we were talking about farm production and, and, um, where your food comes from. And we were amazed to find out that almost all the kids thought that milk was manufactured in a factory like soda. And in a lot of kids, milk wasn't even part of their regular diet. And, and to see that, that level of disconnect.

I mean, I, you know, in some ways I grew up in a farming community in Western Massachusetts. And so I was very lucky. And when we started working with, with, you know, young people who are two, three, four generations in. Very urban areas that disconnect, um, is quite profound from their, from their food production and to see you re-introducing and to see the results that it has on developing minds, both behaviourally, um, to sparking interest in things like life science, entrepreneurship.

It's just incredible. And I think that that what you've done is just. And we're sitting in my classroom run by a bunch of children in the poorest congressional district in America, in the least healthy County in all of New York state. And we are home to New York. State's most perfect pickles. We've been awarded.

We have 10 kind of pickles coming out of here. The kids will gladly sell you a bottle for 10 bucks, you know, so it's. You know, it's outrageous what we can do. We have built farmer's markets with institutions like McClory and Google, where, you know, the children are getting beyond this eight block square radius and learning about the world out there and connecting in real ways.

I will never forget my first farmer's market with my second graders where, you know, we had a prearranged sale. We took all our produce downtown. And our children. So the first $50 bill that they had ever seen in their lives, they didn't know how to make change. And literally had kids line up and count by fives to get up to 50 because they didn't know how to break a $50 bill.

And then to turn around, uh, someone said, Oh, you know what, keep the change. It was amazing. Um, you know, it was the kind of thing where a kids connected in a world and with the world that they never imagined. I mean, no one really wants to be a minimum wage employee behind a French fry machine. Anyway. They would much rather be a greenhouse worker and much, rather than be a greenhouse worker with their iPod or Walkman, whatever the hell you call it, you know, listening to music, not wearing a polyester uniform.

I can't tell you how many days he is by, uh, uh, the, the equipment he just mentioned there. Dude, I got an AOL account and a VCR at home that says 12 o'clock baby. You know, how long has it been? Say 12 o'clock the last 20 years. I don't even know what's on TV or who's on TV, you know, for sure. But that's how I do.

But, um, you know, I, I still got my Winky dink screen just to really put it all in some context up with you, something, Nick, I don't even think, you know what that is. I don't exactly. Maybe Joe, but you know, if not, there's another old timer out there, like me who does. Yeah. I have children who Marvel, but here's the other thing too.

I am children who Marvel at the fact that I have never played a video game in my life, but in a community that is filled with both immigrants and a lot of African-Americans and people who have come here pursuing the American dream and remained dreaming many in every sense of the word. And I'll leave it at that.

Um, you know, the notion of farm work is not always exciting. It conjures up exactly what they're trying to escape. It conjures up visions of slavery, but here with a cell phone and a class that looks like this, we're making farming really, really sexy and kids really get into it. And oftentimes it's the children who you least likely expect and anticipate to thrive in it.

Won't really gel with it. You know, I like to say, you know, I'm, I've probably killed more plants than I've ever grown. I only take pictures of the living ones, but I've never heard a student and children come in here and they find their place and they find this space and they learn how to care for something else besides their immediate need.

And they really take pride in it. Nothing thrills me more than sending, you know, today is Friday. Uh, we're in route in Mich to a, uh, a week off of school after a year. Like no, other than, you know, the children will be in here next week, even though it's vacation helping me take care of the farm and food, those who aren't coming back in may stay away for a week.

Their biggest thrill is today after school to plant our seedlings and predict how big they're going to be in 10 days, uh, when they come back, which is awesome. I mean, you know, whoever knew this kind of stuff could generate so much excitement and engagement and you know, the parents appreciate it. The kids appreciate it.

And at the end of the day, the New York city department of education and the board of education appreciates it, you know, we've taken a school that was formerly failing and slated to be closed. Then using our claim green Bronx machine curriculum have now moved it to outperforming citywide and statewide benchmarks in every single performance area.

Um, you know, this school has been on the cover of time magazine for kids for good stuff. That's rewriting the narrative. We had the first gov all female team when the New York city's STEM championship two years ago, remarkably comparing the difference and doing the data aggregation around the difference between fluorescent lights and led lights, unplanned borough in a classroom.

How cool is that? Extraordinarily. Cool. So w and, and people can't see, um, uh, what what's behind you, but tell us a little bit about your current farm. What's what's going on in there. What have you got grown? So in our current farm, we are right now in the national health wellness and learning center, which you can read about on the green Bronx machine website.

This is a converted library. It's 110 year old building was totally deficient, totally defective and totally defunct. And literally my wife and I cleaned it out and converted it. My first goal was to turn it into quite frankly, a new York's most. Successful commercial farm per square foot, vertical farm per square foot.

And I was going to feed the whole community right up in here with my big ceilings and high hanging lights. You know, I was going to do a, you Joe, you know, I'm going to call you up and say help and, you know, an outfit this room, um, in a crazy way to feed the community. But I realized by the time I did that, And the time I got it up and running the school would be closed, um, because the school was failing.

So, you know, you kind of have to bounce your purpose and your passion to the greater goals of, of the world. And I converted it to a half classroom, half teaching facility, half farm commercial kitchen, and literally this classroom has become the epicenter of the community. We've hosted visitors here from 60 countries.

Imagine that in the South Bronx, We have people here come from Dubai, Kuwait, you name it to see what we're doing with children and using low cost, scalable replicable technology. We grow a copious amount of food. Um, thanks to the technology you guys use. Thanks to tower gardens and our mutual friend, you know, Chris Hagens over at Hort Americas.

Um, you know, and I do want to shout out this industry. This industry has been so supportive of my work. And of my children in ways you can't imagine. I do want to take a heartfelt moment to say, thank you. Because you guys are really encouraging the next generation of children who want to grow up to be farmers, to be greenhouse technicians, to be led lighting specialists, to be IPM management teams.

Um, you know, so you're building your own infrastructure. You're building your own customer base and you're really changing the way children eat, live and learn. And that to me, my friend is remarkable. Well, we just provide the tools. You really are the catalyst to making it all happen. We actually had Jen framer from Gotham greens on earlier this week on another podcast.

And, and we were talking about, uh, some common projects and one was the science barge. Yeah, in, in New York and, and utilizing the technologies. And again, it's everything from, you know, horticulture, entrepreneurship, environmental stewardship, and environmental management, food safety, alternative energies, uh, stormwater remediation.

I mean, the list goes on and on and on and on. And, and I think that, you know, Right now in the industry, a lot of people are focusing on the technologies, you know, Oh look, we just crammed, you know, more plants into a warehouse building, or we did this, we put it, we've created a hydroponic system that spins around and jumps up and down and does all these cool things.

But the bottom line is, is that. The tool for education, the, the ability to not only educate, but in, in stimulate and to, um, create that interest among young people is just phenomenal. But I mean, what you've done is just taken it to a whole other level and just plugged in that technology into those.

Developing minds and, and really one guy I'm just on guy and people give me a lot more credit than I really deserve. Um, the one thing about Steve Richie, he's going to show up early, stay late and say, please, and thank you. And that kind of discipline, uh, will get you far in life. Um, but you know, the big, my big fear is everyone's going to wake up one day and say, wow, he really didn't know too much.

You know, in fact, it was funny when I wrote my curriculum. I didn't even know the formula for photosynthesis. You know, my wife caught it on spellcheck. Um, but the beauty and the democratization of information available now is remarkable. And that's largely due to the industry that really wants to share best secrets and best prep, not best secrets, best practices.

Sure. Everyone has their own proprietary information. And I liked that. But the amount of democracy that's here, the amount of, of shared platforms of, of support. Um, I feel this industry really doesn't compete with each other, but really co peach with each other because everybody does better when we understand, you know, that when we need more food and we need more.

Food efficiently and that when we grow it efficiently and effectively, not only are we helping ourselves, but we're healing our planet. And that to me is the most important thing because, you know, a thousand years from now, we still want to be functioning. So what is, what is one of the biggest hurdles that you have gone through to start a program?

Because this is one of the thing that I get is I get a lot of questions that are. How, how can I start a program or how can I make a difference in my community? What would you say to somebody in Alabama are, you know, Uh, that's a great question, Nick. And what do I say? Stay true to yourself? Know your goals begin with the end in mind.

You know, I wrote this amazing book called the power of a plant and you know, I'll be honest with you. You know, my, my, my career has not been easy. Um, I've been asked to graduate elsewhere. I've been asked to work elsewhere and I'll leave it. And you know, and I'll be clear about that. You know, I wrote school proposals for the New York city department of education.

They thought I was nuts. I wound up selling them overseas to the UAE and here I am now, you know, so you gotta stay true to your gate, true to your game. Don't be afraid to ask for help. You know, there's a reason formula nine, four Oh nine is called formula four Oh nine is because the first 408 formulas didn't work.

Um, you know, so you gotta iterate, you gotta be flexible. You know, if it was easy, everybody would do it. A WD 40 water displacement, 40, the formula it's called WD 40. Cause the first 39 didn't work and they figured WD water, displacements, 40 to try good name. It's the most common household tool in America.

You know, everyone has, it knows what it is. So you've got to know your outcome. And then there are a couple of really good rules I prescribed. Two, one is, uh, say, please, Say, thank you. Have a nice day. Thank you for correcting me. Come early, stay late. Um, know your outcome and give everybody else credit. Um, you know, it's real easy.

To bitch and moan and trust me for a long time, I was outraged by what I saw in public education. And, you know, I bitched and moaned, but you know, you can't just sit around and disrupt. You got to deliver. It's easy to point the finger. Um, it's much harder to get that crop to the table and, and, you know, to feed.

People. So, you know, manage your goals. You know, I always believe exclusivity breeds market share. You know, I like the classroom success, one student at a time, one classroom at a time. And that's how we built this. We built this with eyes on quality control. It's like, you. You know, scaling and replication, you know, what can I do?

And how do I get a factor of 10 X? You know, how do I do this and make sure I don't lose quality control. How do I say, please? And thank you every step of the way. How do I build value for partners, but the most important thing and realize I paid for this myself, you know what people think green Bronx machine is a huge multi-million dollar organization.

No, we are not. I'm a full-time volunteer. I don't even take a paycheck. And you know, so if you're listening, please get out there, buy a book off our website, help support the program, grab a sustainable gangster. T-shirt our new favorite t-shirt is education. Not as fixation made by women in the community, supporting our community and every single purchase goes back to the community, but you gotta be true to your game.

Um, I never wanted to be, and I'm not a big fan of the multi-million dollar startup with an exit strategy. Not that it doesn't work, but you know, for me, it's more about my students than it is about a spreadsheet. Um, you know, and my children are far more than the sum of their data. So for me, it's about building credibility with who you work with in your community.

I like to say we put unity in our community. The beautiful thing is I've accomplished this largely, um, through the support of my wife. Um, through being endlessly resourceful, but also because I have a community that responds to it. And again, the amazing support of the industry, uh, the industry has been so kind to me.

So I want everybody in industry to make a donation please, to green Bronx machine. We're looking for some strategic partnerships. Um, you know, that's for sure, but the best investment you can make is in yourself and in your community. I do. I do have one more question here. So if you can go back to the 12 year old, uh, your, you know, your, your younger self, what, what would you, what kind of advice would you give that 12 year old?

Well, the first thing I would tell that 12 year old as I look at the beautiful plants in your backdrop, and it almost looks like planned pornography is don't bring a Playboy magazine to class. I did that when I was 12 years old and I got in trouble. So that's the first thing that I would do. Um, you know, so it's important to engage your passion, but you got to do it respectfully.

So that's the first thing I would tell my 12 year old self, but you know, at 12 years old, you know, I grew up in a time I'm, I'm older than I look quite frankly. So, you know, I grew up in the sixties, um, in some very turbulent times, Um, both in terms of the civil rights movement only to be cut still 50 years later, right up in the middle of it again.

Um, so to think that, you know, we've been sounding these alarms for more than 50 years in my life and we still haven't woken up and got into a better place, concerns me. Um, so my 12 year old self would say, you know, Maybe go to school a little more often, be a little more studious than I was then, but it had a happy ending and it's had a happy ending because you know, for all my trials and tribulations, I've never not been respectful to my elders.

I've never not thanked those who have supported me. Probably the biggest enemy in this game has been myself because sometimes you want too much too soon and you know, you can't be a leader if you're all over the highway. So, you know, I always joke when I tell my wife to follow me home in the car and I go from lane to lane to lane, how can she stay in your lane?

Um, the most important thing people can do is stay in their lane while advocating for something. So that people can follow in lock step behind you and then diversify and then diversify. But you know, the other thing is really take time to smell the flowers, man, literally, um, literally life has happened fast for a lot of us and now, you know, in the new millennium.

Fast is really fast and getting even faster and slow is really slow. And we are looking at generations of children because of the technology gap, economic gaps, you achieve mint gap and all that is really nothing more than the opportunity gap and systemic, systemic racism and economic injustice revisiting.

So, you know, Really take time to smell the flowers. I always tell children fall in love, you know, make relationships that you love, that you're going to treasure and treat people in the planet the way you want to be treated, which is things, you know, we didn't know back then, but we know better now, you know, the Internet's here.

Um, we've got some real, despite all of that deep, dark things that are happening around us. We have the knowledge and capacity to change it. And it's time to build that Goodwill towards each other and ourselves, or that we do something today that our future cells and future families and future friends will be proud of.

And, and that's what this opportunity is this at this very critical moment, you know, I always say, let compassion be the new curriculum, let empathy and kindness be our new North star. And with that, we can grow something greater in ways we've never imagined. So I often tell people to always hit the rewind button.

Okay. So so-and-so just said this, go back and listen to that again. We implant there. I think they should really go back all the way to the whole beginning of that, because there was so much good stuff in there. Um, Stephen that's, that's just awesome. So, so tell us about right now, what's going on. You've got some new stuff going on.

Um, Everything is just kind of happening at warp speed. So, so bring us up to speed kind of thing. Hertz, petty industry. I'm super excited to share with you. You know, the pandemic has really, and make no doubt about it. I'm in the highest infection rate in America, you know, four of the five highest zip codes are right here in the community.

I live work and traveled through each and every day. Um, in our school and circle of immediate friends and family, we've lost 24 people to COVID right here. So, and I've got people who haven't come out of buildings in months because they're so afraid. You know, we've got these big, massive buildings here.

Um, we are very geographically isolated, um, and we really needed to be nimble in response to COVID. And to really generating content for kids. So I'm proud to debut that in partnership with the New York city department of education and PBS, we are launching a series called let's learn, and let's learn as a series of TV episodes designed for elementary school children to teach them about health, wellness, and community.

And our first episode debuts on April six, featuring Leslie, the lady bug. Who moves into her new apartment, building Faisal towers and remarkably. I'm glad Leslie likes to eat aphids. Cause I tell her all the time, I'm glad you eat aphids. Cause I do not like the taste of them, but Leslie moves into Bazell towers, which is a hype and aeroponic tower garden.

Right here in my classroom and he's going to help children grow something greater and learn about health, wellness, unity, and community. We've got an amazing documentary out. There's a trailer available on the green Bronx. We've seen website called generation growth. If you haven't seen it, you will be inspired.

It is winning awards across the country and merely taking people by storm talking about what. Is possible when you introduce children to compassion and food, because at the end of the day, make no doubt about it. The most important school supply in the world is food. And children will never be well-read if they're not well fed, um, and feeding them crap is really zero sum game for most people and a big sum gain for a few people.

And we need to change that mindset. You know, we need to change that mindset. When children learn, they can grow their own food. They go from being consumers to producers and they start producing everything. So I'm thrilled that the series features local students, local icons, local institutions, and, um, it's just a way to really, uh, put some passion, purpose, help, and hope, and kindness and compassion into our community, which have adorable lovable characters.

So it's called let's learn. If they use April 6th, our feature documentary generation growth. The trailer is up on the green Bronx machine website, but sign up for our newsletter, please. And learn more. You can sign up for the green Bronx machine newsletter at the green Bronx machine website. Or you can visit me on my website at Steven STP ATN, rich, R I T z.com.

Awesome. Well, yeah, you have convinced me that you don't sleep, but that's good. Cause that's a everyone else's game. So we'll definitely put, uh, all of Steven's information up on our social media, but definitely please get over to the green Bronx machine or Stephen ritz.com and, uh, and help him out. Get involved.

Um, sure. A kid's book by a beautiful bow tie. Get a t-shirt. It seems like Steven has only one level and that's number 10 all the way he's on 11. Actually there's probably 12, 13. He's got some extra boosters in there, somewhere. This is me on a level keel. Wow. Guided yet. Well, four hours in today's day. So this is me on a slow, steady burn baby.

But you know, the reality is this. Um, input equals output. You know, I had a plant-based breakfast. Um, you know, I really, for those of you who don't know, I'm still waiting for the Knicks to call me back for the MBA. Uh, this is probably the last year I'll consider getting in shape, but you know, the remarkable trajectory is, you know, even through my thirties, I was fit and slim, but I hit 40 and men gravity started happening and I'll leave it at that.

And I swelled to over 300 pounds. Um, but, you know, by changing my, you know, I had a heart attack, I was diabetic simply by eating the food that was available in my community. And when I realized that, you know, I had a talk, instead of talking about it, I had to be about, I lost 170, 110 pounds in seven months and became a champion of change at the white house.

I'm bringing sexy back and, you know, so can you, that's the most important thing and not only am I bringing sexy back for me, but every time I keep a burger out of my belly or a big steak off my plate, Think about what that does for the planet as a whole. So, you know, I want people to start embracing what I call the planet, beneficial diet.

I want you to think about what you're eating and what you're consuming. Um, not only has an impact on you. But everywhere else and for everyone else, because you know, here's a great story, or there's a fast food restaurant. I'm not going to shout it out. They just opened up in my community. And when my students learned that nationally, that chain refused to pay workers one penny, more per pound for tomatoes in Florida.

And those workers looked just like my children's parents, grandparents, aunties, and uncles. We've never stepped foot in that store. And that's the kind of voice and consumer advocacy that we can create because each and every day, you know, listen, we've been through some turbulent times and I'll keep my politics out of this as well.

But each and every day, you vote with your fork. You vote with your mouth, you vote with your wallet and you vote at the ballot box. And the choices that we make and we teach our children to make really have bigger impacts you beyond just who's a Republican, a Democrat are confused and in the middle, um, it really impacts, you know, The way children in third world countries are being treated the way women are being treated the way people of color are being treated.

And the nice thing about, you know, our tribe here is we love everybody. And the one thing that we do is we grow something that's non-negotiable, you may not need another pair of sneakers. You may not need offense, you hat, or a fancy suit or a brand new car, but at some point you're going to eat. And you need to eat healthy and eating healthy and treating the environment.

Employees properly is what this movement is all about. And I'm so proud to be a proud part of it in my own little way. Well, and we're so fortunate to have you there because you know, it, it takes dedication and it takes people like yourself to, to really make that happen. So, you know, we're, we're, we're so happy that you're here and that you're doing that.

And, uh, obviously, you know, we're, we're involved and we're with you and we're going to support you every step of the way and try to spread the word, uh, which you're already doing a phenomenal job of, but, but certainly we're going to get that out. And, um, so people please. Go out there, check Stephen out, uh, go to his website, donate, become a part of it.

You know, when you come visit, you know, people think the Bronx, you know, and listen to the Bronx is a tough place. It's changed a lot in my lifetime. It's gotten way better, but I know a Bronxville, the beautiful people and amazing opportunities and inspired immigrants. So please come. Come visit, you know, we want to come and see our classrooms, send me an email.

I say yes to everybody. My wife says, stop saying yes all the time. And I say, okay, no. So that's the only note you'll ever get from me is when my wife tells me to stop saying yes. Okay, no, um, you know, you got it. So please come visit, embrace something new. Think about the lives that you can touch and remember, you know, no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

And you don't have to be great to start, but you got to start naughty to be great. Hmm. Amen. Thank you, Stephen. Ritson. Thank you so much. God bless you for all the work that you're doing. Uh, we were definitely going to have to have you back. Um, we're going to follow your work, please follow Steven's work help if you can.

And, uh, thank you again, Stephen for spending time out of your very busy day. And, uh, thank you to everyone listening today, and we hope to enjoy this and got a lot out of it. Go back, hit the rewind button again, and certainly share it with your friends and, uh, until next time. Thanks very much everyone.

Great day. Thank you.