From Crack to Cucumbers: How the Rockefeller Foundation Funds Healthy Eating in the Bronx

A South Bronx teacher named Stephen Ritz, author of From Crack to Cucumbers, had a vision: Kids in the Bronx shouldn't have to leave their neighborhood to be healthy and successful. He built an indoor edible wall in his classroom, the first of its kind in New York City, that regularly yields enough produce to feed healthy meals to 450 students. Thanks to a recent Rockefeller Foundation grant, Ritz will be able to promote healthy eating in the Bronx at a greater scale than ever before. (Read Rockefeller Foundation: New York City Grants).

The $125,000 grant to Green Bronx Machine was made as part of Rockefeller's Lead Opp Fund-VPIS initiative. Good luck trying to wrap your head around it, as it is impossibly broad and encompassing. Other recent grantees awarded funds under this initiative include the Aspen Institute, for a project to educate members of the U.S. Congress on key public policy issues, and Oxfam America, to support a workshop about market solutions and finance at a upcoming conference in Cameroon, Africa.

The $125,000 grant will be spread out over three years to promote sustainable employment by teaching students, parents, and the community to grow and market vegetables in the Bronx. Ritz has reportedly boosted school attendance from 40% to 93% daily and helped create 2,200 jobs for youth in the area. And Green Bronx Machine does more than grow produce. The nonprofit also offers the following community services:

  • Educational and Consulting Services
  • Urban Greenscaping: Mobile Edible Wall Units, Green Walls and Green Roofs
  • Urban Agriculture: Indoor, Mobile and Traditional Farming
  • Urban Landscape: Atriums, Terraces, Patios, Commercial, Residential – installation / maintenance
  • Economic Development: Youth and Adult Work Force Development
  • Community Development: Youth, Adult, Senior Services
  • Health, Wellness, Nutrition and Advocacy

So how does a small outfit like Green Bronx Machine capture the attention of a philanthropic giant like the Rockefeller Foundation? Well, it helps to be featured in CNN, NBC, ABC, NPR, ForbesThe Wall Street Journal, and even in a Progressive Auto Insurance commercial. And it helps to be punching a number of hot buttons at once: healthy eating, organic food, economic development, job training. Get on the cutting edge, and get in the media, and the money will follow. Well, sometimes, anyway. 

As Ritz says, “Our hometown city that gave the world hip-hop and phunky fresh beats is now poised to grow and export locally grown, organic red beets along with our talent and diversity.” The Rockefeller Foundation may be a huge international and national funder, but it has a strong commitment to funding in New York City (unlike a number of other big foundations based in the city) and still makes room for local nonprofits that are breaking new ground, both literally and figuratively.