Ten Questions with Stephen Ritz, Founder of the Green Bronx Machine

Ten Questions with Stephen Ritz, Founder of the Green Bronx Machine
From foodtank.com, by Stephen Ritz

Food Tank, in partnership with American University, is hosting the 2nd Annual Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C. on April 20–21, 2016. 

This two-day event will feature more than 75 different speakers from the food and agriculture field. Researchers, farmers, chefs, policymakers, government officials, and students will come together for panels on topics including food waste, urban agriculture, family farmers, farm workers, and more. 

Food Tank recently had the opportunity to speak with Stephen Ritz, the Founder of the Green Bronx Machine, who will be speaking at the summit.

Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to get involved in food and agriculture?

Stephen Ritz (SR): Food is a non-negotiable. It is a point of entry for everyone and a daily need/input that all humans share in common. In a community with limited means and limited access to healthy food, the notion of embedding food and agriculture into public education and workforce development skills seemed like an absolute add value proposition to me. While I am growing food and vegetables, my vegetables are growing students, citizens, school performance, and communities. The entire movement is about planting seeds—both literally and figuratively. Seeds represent genetic potential and my goal is to make sure all my students and my colleagues reach and fulfill their God-given genetic potential; crops well planted and tended can give you a harvest of abundance and epic proportion. 

FT: What do you see as the biggest opportunity to fix the food system?

SR: The biggest opportunity to fix the food system comes via education. First and foremost, we need to teach children what food is and what food isn’t. We need to teach them dignity and respect for their bodies—that what we put into them determines what comes out of them. We need to teach children to respect the earth, the inputs, and embedded energy that go into food production. We need to teach children to respect farmers—who remarkably, and more often than not, share the same cultural backgrounds. We need to educate children about media and marketing, to move them from being consumers to producers and changing their status in the larger ecosystems and economic systems that they are a part of. When children grow food in school, they learn all of this and become actively empowered and engaged in their lives and the lives of living things around them.

FT: What innovations in agriculture and the food system are you most excited about?

SR: I’m phenomenally inspired by the entire good food movement—from active policy makers to those on the front lines working with farmers and people daily. The urban agriculture movement, vertical farming movement, indoor controlled agriculture movement—be it hydroponics, aeroponics, aquaculture, permaculture—are tremendous opportunities to redefine the work we do to feed the planet and care for it as well. The movement towards transparency, understanding sourcing, labeling, and fair and responsible labor practices gives me hope for a better, brighter, more equitable future for all.

FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you?

SR: There are so many heroes in this movement—those in public view and those laboring in far off lands far under the radar. That said, I want to shout out children who are becoming the voice of the movement, who are demanding and working for environmental and social justice and are holding themselves and their leaders accountable. For this movement to move beyond sustainability and become regenerative for people and the planet, we need active and empowered youth—individuals committed to fight the good fight and leave the world better than they found it.

FT: What drives you every day to fight for the bettering of our food system?

SR: Simply put, I am an equity warrior. I believe in people and the planet with a triple bottom line orientation. For so many, food is the problem, yet for all of us, including mother Earth, responsible practices can offer solutions! Business as usual is no longer an option. For me, this all starts with children—it is easier to raise healthy children than fix broken men!

FT: What’s the biggest problem within the food system our parents and grandparents didn't have to deal with?

SR: One of the biggest problems I see today is marketing, corporate spending, and the way big business targets our youth. Children are inundated with messaging, logos, subliminal messages, and shameless marketing ploys via celebrities almost every waking moment of the day, on so many platforms; we as responsible adults and parents owe them better. The proliferation of cheap food, fast food, and convenience food has forever changed the landscape of the world and the waistlines of our populations—far too often on the hearts, backs, minds, and lifespans of the marginalized and poor.

FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system?

SR: Waste—it is appalling—across every sector and segment of society and business. It is also tied to the marketing issue and the notion of a picture-perfect world or picture-perfect food. We need to stop perpetuating lies and creating false images. To think how much food goes to waste daily sickens me.

FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?

SR: Simply put, eat less meat; the impact on your body and the planet will be phenomenal. Eat as locally—in every sense of the word—and as seasonally as possible. I’m a big advocate of the notion: act locally, think globally! Hippocrates said it best: “Let thy food be thy medicine, and let thy medicine be thy food.” Imagine if we embraced that wisdom on a daily basis!

FT: What’s one issue within the food system you’d like to see completely solved for the next generation?

SR: Hunger! We have an abundance on the planet—we need to address this issue immediately. Nobody should go to sleep hungry. This also ties into my concerns with waste and diversion. We also need to end the bucket brigade mentality of solutions and look at systems thinking! On the flip side, it is appalling to realize that obesity has now become the face of hunger for so many.

FT: What agricultural issue would you like for the next president of the United States to immediately address?

SR: I am an educator first and foremost, but I am very excited to see the movement towards increasing minimum wage and farm worker conditions. Treating workers, farmers, and the land with dignity and respect seems like a fine agenda to address. Dignity, transparency, and respect matter! 

To find out more about the event, see the full list of speakers, and purchase tickets, please click HERE. Interested participants who cannot join can also sign up for the livestream HERE.

To join us at Food Tank's São Paulo, Brazil Summit in September 2016, please click HERE. To join us at Food Tank's Sacramento, CA Summit on September 22–23, 2016, please click HERE. To join us at Food Tank's Chicago, IL Summit on November 16–17, 2016, please click HERE

Want to become a sponsor of the Food Tank Summit? Please click HERE

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Want to watch videos from last year's Food Tank Summit? Please click HERE

Sponsors for this year's Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C. include: Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition, Chaia DC, Chipotle, Clif Bar, D.C. Government, Driscoll's, Edible DC, Elevation Burger, Fair Trade USA, Food and Environment Reporting Network, Global Environmental Politics Program of the School of International Service, Greener Media, Inter Press Service, Leafware, Niman Ranch, Organic Valley, Panera Bread, and VegFund. 

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