Green Bronx Machine is a non-profit using the power of environmental education to strengthen communities.
Its classroom curriculum taps into local food systems, including Gotham Greens’ greenhouses, to help students develop key academic skills while experiencing the joy of growing and eating veggies. We’ve worked closely with Green Bronx Machine to build classroom gardens, deliver wellness programming, and organize corporate volunteering opportunities across our NYC community. The organization’s impact in schools has a ripple effect on the surrounding neighborhoods, building inclusivity and increasing access to nutritious food.
Before the pandemic, more than one million New Yorkers did not have adequate access to food, according to Feeding America. By the end of 2020, that number is expected to increase by 38 percent. And for many NYC students without access to basic necessities, remote schooling has created a huge interruption in learning and development.
Green Bronx Machine continues to be an essential part of the community during this time. The organization has continued to teach classes virtually while also providing fresh local produce to students and families across the Bronx. Since the beginning of the pandemic, they’ve delivered more than 100,000 pounds of food, including Gotham Greens lettuce grown in NYC.
We spoke with our friends Stephen, Lizette and Michaela of Green Bronx Machine to see how they’re preparing to tackle the increased need for food support this winter. Check out our conversation below.
Tell us a little about your organization.
Green Bronx Machine is a locally-grown organization that grows high performing schools and happy, healthy children through the art and science of growing vegetables indoors aligned to whole school daily instruction. Our program is ranked a Top Ten Health and Wellness Program in America and we have helped change outcomes in hundreds of schools across the nation.
How did you get started and what inspired you to begin this project?
We started as an after school program – rooted in workforce development – looking to move those who were apart from success to becoming part of it in ways that benefit 100% of society. We then realized it was simply easier to raise healthy children than to fix broken men and started to focus on younger children. Today we serve over 50,000 children daily and are determined to grow something greater. Make no doubt about it, we were inspired by the innovation and aspiration of Gotham Greens and Viraj Puri!
How have things shifted since COVID-19?
COVID changed everything and illuminated the simple fact that food justice is racial justice. Green Bronx Machine has been exceptionally nimble, creating new supply chains, delivering more than 100,000 pounds of food, rescuing food from going to landfill, serving seniors every week, creating online teaching and cooking programming, building gardens, growing food, and ensuring that our community is both fed and nourished. Since COVID, our impact and efficacy have been celebrated and showcased by CNN, NYC Food Policy Center, VERGE, Green Biz and others.
How do you typically prepare for the increased need in the winter months?
Typically we prepare for winter months by growing more food in school – in fact, we just had our first classroom harvest! Now, we are working on new supply chains and are speaking directly with farmers, producers, CPG’s and industry. As our community continues to suffer and be highly impacted, we are continuing to look at new ways to access and distribute good food. We rely on local support so your donations are critical and appreciated.
Tell us about your ties to the city and neighborhood.
We are as local as local gets – born in the city and reside in the city – NYC is in our DNA! We know our neighbors and our neighborhoods intimately – we are woven into their fabric and them into ours – our program knows no borders and has no finite walls. Like Gotham, from the Bronx to Brooklyn to Queens to Chicago – and everywhere in between – we are the home team! We can’t wait to see a Gotham Greens in every major city in America. If you can’t grow it yourself, eat Gotham!
What does a typical day look like for you and your volunteers?
There is no typical day – although everything centers around school: quality of teaching and quality of learning. Life can be exceptionally challenging for our residents and most importantly our students. On a daily basis we ensure safety, learning, happiness and health. Our work touches students and teachers daily in school – be it in person or distanced – as well as families and seniors by supplying food and teaching about it – and workforce development by creating and connecting to living wage opportunities. Seasonal opportunities abound – be it spring, summer, fall outdoors or all year round indoors. We welcome folks looking to commit and get involved.
What have you learned in the past few months/years of operating?
We’ve learned that every crisis presents an opportunity and that no one can do everything but everyone can do something! You don’t have to be great to start but you have to start in order to be great. We’re Bronx proud but also humble – we know the golden rules are the best rules and that together, we are the ones we are waiting for. The degree to which we resist injustice is the degree to which we are all free.
We are so honored to work with and learn from your team, and be able to support your mission.
Our partnership with Gotham has been game-changing, they are part and parcel of our story and our evolution – moreover it is unique – it is about capacity, inspiration, vision and support – they are family. Gotham has paved the way for the industry and has been with us every step of the way. As educators, we seek to learn from those who are titans and stewards of the industry. Moreover, their product is the gold standard, it is easy to fall in love with healthy food, healthy eating, and healthy living when it tastes so good and looks so good. We are particularly grateful that Gotham Greens has helped us roll out amazing programs in New York City, and in Chicago with Jonathan Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks – Go Team Gotham!
What has been the most gratifying result of your work?
We’ve shepherded generations of students and families into successes they never imagined – be it academic, financial, health or other personal triumphs – we’ve been here for our community through the worst of times and will be here no matter what – our authenticity is our advocacy and our advocacy is our authenticity. To go from our green house to the Obama White House, from hope to the Pope speaks to what is possible. That folks from across the nation and around the world are looking to us as leaders in innovation, resiliency and impact screams from the Bronx to the world! Make no doubt about it, it is the day to day work, the lives changed, the smiles earned, the meals shared, the lessons taught, the seedlings planted, and gardens grown that make this a wondrous, epic and joyous journey.
It’s been quite a year and your team has rallied to support our local Bronx community. What are you thankful for this holiday season?
At Green Bronx Machine, we bring unity to our commUNITY. We celebrate and respect local and are ever mindful that we stand on the shoulders of elders and giants who have paved the way. Long before this year, we were never specifically Thanksgiving focused, but rather thankful focused; choosing to live in and foster an attitude of gratitude and respect rather than celebrate a holiday per se. That said, since COVID started, Green Bronx Machine and our most vulnerable 55 families and 30 seniors are EXTREMELY grateful for the weekly donated Gotham product we bring door to door in the Bronx. From day one, Gotham Greens has stood united with us and always asked how they could help. At GBM, we also understand that the holiday season, particularly in communities like ours, is often the most stressful time of year – even under the best of circumstances. Simply put, we equity warriors are grateful to serve and are thankful for those who stand with us and support us. At this time of year, we appreciate fiscal support; donations – including in-kind, go a long, long way! Please spread joy!
What are your goals for the future?
The most important school supply in the world is food, especially if you don’t have it. Our goal is to make sure that every child has access to a healthy plate of food, to ensure that hood food is good food and good food is hood food. We want children to understand what food is, where it comes from, how to grow it and how to prepare it – to respect the process and the planet. Think about this, we are a world that has placed and retrieved a man on the moon; we should be able to deliver good food, produced ethically and responsibly to citizens of our planet. We also believe the greatest lever towards equity in the world is public education. To that end, we are committed to quality of teaching and quality of learning via indoor academic learning gardens and the Green Bronx Machine Classroom Curriculum.
How can people help the Bronx community and support your work?
For those with means, we’d love you to sponsor a school or a community center in the Bronx or in your home community. For $3,000 you can sponsor a whole school program in perpetuity, complete with a garden, curriculum, professional development and all the resources necessary to ensure success. For others, please consider making a monthly contribution – the lifeblood of our organization – or a one-time, impact driven donation. For others, your voice is your contribution, please share news of our impact and success with like minded individuals and share, share, share our news on your social media and with friends.
We’re excited to share the bounty from our NYC team’s canned drive with the Green Bronx Machine community. What’s your favorite Thanksgiving dish that incorporates canned goods?
At Green Bronx Machine, we always say if you can’t grow it yourself – eat Gotham. My two favorite canned foods are sardines in water and anchovies in olive oil. I’m also a huge fan of garbanzo beans, kidney beans, and pinto beans, which go great with Gotham Greens pesto! One of our big hits with virtual cooking this fall is our Southwest Salad – we use Gotham Green’s romaine lettuce, and I like to shred some GG basil on top, too! And of course, one of my favorite childhood memories involves good old Campbell’s soup – and nothing dresses up a soup like vegetables you’ve grown with students in your garden! To this day, soup is always my favorite meal – especially vegetable soup.