I admit, initially I had not given much thought to urban gardening, much less as a tool to educate kids and unite communities. The very notion of an urban garden movement is hard to fathom, we do not associate farming and cities naturally. However, my own notions began to change after watching Stephen Ritz present a Ted Talk. Ritz, a teacher/administrator and figurehead of the Green Bronx Machine, has found a way to teach students science and technology in one of the most disenfranchised communities in the nation by gardening.
Despite the destitution associated with the Bronx community, Stephen Ritz is cultivating hope and success through his urban gardening classroom. Very similar in manner to New York City’s famed origins of graffiti and hip hop, Ritz’s emphasis is to take what is around him and make it beautiful. Making something out of what is societally percieved “nothing”, Ritz encourages students, who predominantly comes from lower income families, to learn how to care and nurture for the plants they grow in his classroom. In a community that has a lack of access to affordable fresh greens, these students grow their own food and are able to feed their own school, bring home to families, and provide as a service to customers.
This educational approach is dynamic in nature. In order for the students to have access to gardening, they must learn how to grow their own plants. In so doing, they learn the proper math and science behind growing plants properly while also collaborating and participating freely. Additionally, Ritz’s students also learn to make a living wage as his project doubles as a business exporting and planting the gardens for community participants and on people’s homes. Some of their invitations have brought Ritz and his students to the Hamptons, where they were able to plant beautiful gardens on gorgeous rooftops in what he calls the “new green graffiti.”
It may not seem as viral as Gangnam Style, but urban garden methods are growing more popular and spreading across the nation. Ron Finley, a fellow urban gardening advocate and TED speaker, is attempting to turn urban Los Angeles from a “food desert” to a “food forest”. In a recent article, the Detroit neighborhood of Brightmoor has taken similar efforts to plant food in desolate urban areas and bring the community together. Brightmoor’s farming effort has helped push through Detroit’s urban farming ordinance, according to Detroit City Councilman James Tate. Even Boston is considering an amendment to its laws to permit accessibility to urban farming, which has become increasingly popular in recent years. The urban garden movement is growing on the nation’s interest for a lot of reasons, all of which benefit and educate our society.
Perhaps Stephen Ritz says it best, as a metaphor for education: “We’re planting all kinds of seeds – academic seeds, cultural seeds, seeds of hope. I call it cultivating minds and harvesting hope.”