Three decades ago, Hunts Point was the location of an adventure so visionary and so daring that many people branded it as nuts.
In the midst of the catastrophe that had overtaken the South Bronx, on a rubble-strewn three-plus acre lot next door to the sewer plant, an organization called Bronx Frontier Development Corporation created a farm.
Bronx Frontier hauled vegetable waste from the Hunts Point Market and animal waste from the Bronx Zoo, composted it to create topsoil to spread over the wasteland, and planted a vegetable crop. Converting as much as 40 tons of waste a day to a rich growing medium, it captured the gas created during the composting process and used it to generate electricity. It erected a windmill to produce more power, but also to create music, a constantly changing array of sounds determined by the speed and direction of the wind.It turns out that Bronx Frontier was not so much crazy as it was early–it was so far ahead of its time that it could not be sustained. Today, though, urban farms are becoming routine. On the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn a two-and-a-half acre non-profit farm flourishes. Closer to home, in Mott Haven, La Finca del Sur/South Bronx Farm and Brook Park produce abundant harvests.
So when a veteran teacher includes a photograph of eggplants growing from the “green wall” of a building in his proposal to start a new high school in Hunts Point, don’t call him loco.
Call him an innovator, who’s in step with a time when people across the nation are looking for sources of food more nourishing and less damaging to the environment than what agribusiness sends us. Call him in touch with efforts to provide locally-grown food, even in cities.
Stephen Ritz wants to create and lead the Hunts Point High School for Sustainable Community Initiatives. He’s joined in the effort by The Point Community Development Corporation, which would house the school and use its soon-to-be-installed green roof as a teaching laboratory.
Adam Liebowitz, who pioneered The Point’s maiden venture into growing fresh food last year, would be one of the school’s partners, along with Jaimie P. Cloud, founder of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education.
The school envisions using Sustainable South Bronx’s FabLab and developing collaborations with local employers, including Sims Metal and the Hunts Point Market, so that students can graduate to jobs in recycling, food management, and environmentally-friendly construction.
It also plans to require students to design their neighborhoods’ future by identifying a place ripe for reclaiming from environmental degradation and making a plan to redevelop it.
Ritz has worked with local institutions for years. He has a distinguished record as a teacher. He dreams of a school where Hunts Point’s young people can learn ways to better their community as well as themselves. He refuses to let that dream die.
Hunts Point High School for Sustainable Community Initiatives offers a chance to redeem the promise that Bronx Frontier made all those years ago—of a visionary yet practical way to meet critical neighborhood needs. Ask the Department of Education to listen. Tell the chancellor that Hunts Point needs this school.
A version of this story appeared in the December 2009/January 2010 issue of The Hunts Point Express.