Demetrius Pipkin
food desert
green bronx machine
urban garden
January 23, 2014

The Green Bronx Machine


Shelby: Have you ever tried to grow your own food? Well, it is one thing if you have a whole bunch of fertile farmland or even a big backyard. But in a crowded city like New York, it is a whole different story. Demetrius Pipkin explains.

Demetrius: Welcome to the South Bronx in New York City. Nearly half of the residents here live below the poverty line.

Michaela Ritz: I know that so many people in this community could benefit from producing their own food.

Demetrius: One in three families here is classified as ‘food insecure,’ meaning there is not enough food to support their family or healthy food options are limited, leading the South Bronx to become one of the most unhealthy and obese areas in the country. But hope for change is growing in this concrete jungle with the Green Bronx Machine.

Michaela: We started by growing food in small gardens and plots of land in our neighborhoods and elsewhere in other communities that were troubled as well.

This one’s parsley.

Demetrius: Michaela Ritz, one of the founding members of the Green Bronx Machine, is hoping to harvest more than just greens.

Michaela: This is a good one.

Demetrius: They want to cultivate the minds of young people by educating them on the importance of eating healthier.

Stephen Ritz: They grow it, they eat it and they take ownership of it. We’re seeing kids who didn’t even know where their food come from, and now they differentiate between very expensive brands of lettuce, which, guess what? We are delighted to sell.

Demetrius: JVL Wildcat Academy is one of the schools in the South Bronx that works with the program. Students here, many of whom have had problems at other schools, come to Wildcat Academy for a second chance.

Steven Amoros: If it wasn’t for them, I would probably be out there cutting class, not going to school, doing wrong things with the wrong people.

Tiffany Ayala: You come to this school and do your very best and you put your mind to it, you’re going to graduate and you’re going to go somewhere.

Demetrius: Both of these students started at Wildcat Academy in the culinary program with dreams of one day working in the kitchen professionally. So when the school offered them an opportunity to grow some of the foods that they were working with, they jumped at the idea. And so they were introduced to hydroponics.

Marc Donald: In a very brief and simple definition, it is growing nutritious vegetables through water. So the water carries the nutrients to everything versus the soil.

Demetrius: Which is perfect for an urban setting where soil is hard to come by. More than half of the world’s population currently lives in what is considered an urban area. But by 2050, that number is projected to increase to 70%. And the amount of available farmland will decrease. Urban gardens could be a way to solve that problem without putting strain on the environment.

Today, the students are putting together hydroponic towers, an energy efficient way to garden in a small indoor space with very few limits on what they can grow.

Michaela: We have kale, we have some arugula spring mix. Here’s a piece of Bronx broccoli.

Demetrius: Bronx Broccoli right here? Okay.

Michaela: Yeah, check that out!

Demetrius: Bronx Broccoli!

So far, the Green Bronx Machine has harvested over 30,000 pounds of vegetables, some of which has made its way into soup kitchens, local farmers markets, and even, much closer to home for these students, the JVL culinary program.

A new, healthier lifestyle has been planted in the South Bronx. And for this crop of students, many of the lessons learned throughout this program will continue to grow for many years to come.

Steven: When I plant something, I think of it like myself. Like, I still need to grow. So, I guess, these plants just need a lot of care and attention, and then they’ll grow to it’s full potential, just like me. I’ll one day grow up to be a man and with my full potential.

Demetrius: Demetrius Pipkin, Channel One News.

Shelby: Well, you don’t have to live in a big city to have your very own green machine. Check out for tips on how to start a home garden.


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