Education / Environment / Food / Health / Jobs

From the editor: A school the neighborhood needs

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.

Beans in The Point's vegetable garden.

Beans in The Point's vegetable garden.

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.

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  1. This edition of the Hunts Point Express is nothing short of outstanding. Every story is of interest to me. This is the first time in a long time that I’ve gotten the chance to keep up with what’s going on in this section of The Bronx. My first teaching app’t was to Morris.
    May I suggest assigning one of your journalists to cover BCEQ? The board meets on 2d Weds, and committees meet adhoc. ***icle***

  2. StephenRitz says:

    Hunts Point Express and Professor Stein are beacons of honesty, integrity, hope and commitment for people who live, love and work in our community. On behalf of the entire planning team of the Hunts Point High School for Sustainable Community Initiatives, we are grateful and appreciative of your support and endorsement. Your editorial and ongoing features of local initiatives and past community history support our collective vision that folks shouldn’t have to leave their home community to live, learn and earn in a better one!

    Thank you for calling attention to the fact that we are poised, ready, willing and able to transform lives and reclaim the landscape and mindset of the South Bronx – the poorest Congressional District in America – while fostering opportunities, cultivating minds and harvesting hope in and for this generation. As your newspaper continues to point out, neither jails nor retail equate to living wage or wholly inclusive opportunities for our youth or our community. Our locally grown and growth oriented proposal is ripe for our neighborhood filled with vast and unlimited resources and potential.

    Mindful that the future can and will be shaped in the South Bronx of America; your editorial, your collective voices and your newspaper are proof that we can and we will export our talent and diversity globally. Our community grown and nationally supported initiative looks forward to having you cover our opening day and all subsequent graduations at HPHS; where community and creativity meet sustainable 21st Century opportunities, Hunts Point, USA.


    Stephen Ritz – Team Leader HPHS

  3. I feel this is exactly the direction we should be heading,
    we need to give our full support to people that are proposing to better our communities like Steve Ritz. I was a former student of Ritz and he truly believes in what he is proposing, I can honestly say that he is in it for real. I have never met a teacher with such passion,love,honesty and understanding for what he does and the level of confidence and honesty he amplifies is overwhelmingly inspiring. Steve Ritz has been a great source of inspiration to me as to many of my peers, we must wake up and see the direction we are heading in and understand that by giving our full support and understanding to people like Ritz we can better our future.
    we must talk openly and get this concept out into peoples minds as much as we can. we must advocate for schools that carry this concept, we must also reorganize our perception of what is important and relevant to the communities we live in and how to go about these matters.
    we must bring up education and the sustainability of this city and its people to the top of our list!!! and lets stop supporting people that are in it merely for self gratifying reasons!! Ritz is purely in it for the sake of our future and its people..lets get educated the right way in an environment that extrudes creativity,relevance to our changing world,love and life!!!
    GO RITZ!!!

  4. peteraweiss says:

    This is a school idea whose time has come. It meshes the best of worlds into current educational practices and environmental concerns in precisely the areas most needed. It benefits all parties concerned, the kids first, of course, the parents, community, environment and citizenry. It also allows teachers and educators to do what they really can do well when they are truly working for kids and community and not for personal individual gain.

  5. Thanks for this. Definitely need more education that offers experience into what constitutes real sustainability and regeneration. In addition, there should be an approach that utilizes popular education methodologies. Finally, it is not just about the environment and climate change, it is about system change. A school that questions the dominant model of economics currently experienced by most of the world will be a green one. Go team!

  6. jackifoster says:

    Schools with themes have emerged as the way to improve achievement for at risk students. A school with a theme that also provides a better and useful environment is a great idea. Let’s hope that this project is implemented and students in the Bronx are able to increase their choices and possibilities for the future.

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