Leigh Brown noticed a change in the two months since she helped to plant 4,000 fruit and vegetable plants at the Food for Others Garden in the Wakefield section of the Bronx.
“It’s grown a lot. It used to be like nothing and now it’s the biggest thing ever. I feel like I’ve helped a lot of people with this garden,” said the rising eighth-grader from the Bronx, one of 15 Ursuline School students volunteering their summer morning to harvest the garden July 10.
The Ursuline students filled eight clear garbage bags with collard greens and three bags with basil. They also harvested jalapeno peppers.
“I can’t be more proud of the students at The Ursuline School who gave up their time, energy and effort to help us grow something great,” said Stephen Ritz, founder of the Green Bronx Machine that operates the Food for Others Garden.
Ritz, a public school teacher from the Bronx, started the nonprofit Green Bronx Machine in 2004. The garden is 120 feet long and 35 feet wide. It sits on a decommissioned city street at the dead end of Grace Avenue. There are 120 rows of plants, with 26 to 38 plants in each row. Close to 6,000 pounds of fresh produce may be harvested this year, including fruits and vegetables such as eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, raspberries and grapes.
Produce is donated to the food pantry at Part of the Solution in the Bronx, an agency affiliated with archdiocesan Catholic Charities. The Green Bronx Machine has also partnered with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to donate produce to cancer patients who live in public housing.
“The garden is a great opportunity to offer fresh produce to cancer patients who are undergoing treatments, to add that quality food source to other nonperishable items they receive at a food pantry. It just adds to being able to care for the whole person through a challenging time,” said Jeralyn Cortez-Weir, community outreach coordinator for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
The partnership between The Ursuline School in New Rochelle and Green Bronx Machine began when Ritz spoke at Ursuline’s “global hunger and food justice” symposium in March.
On May 10, seventh-graders from Ursuline planted the 4,000 fruit and vegetable plants. Two weeks later, Ursuline students inserted support sticks for the plants and planted 500 sunflowers.
“Each year we get a keynote speaker, and we felt Stephen Ritz was the perfect fit,” said Maria Barton, an administrator at Ursuline, which has 800 students in grades six to 12.
“We were lucky enough to partner with him. He came to our school, spoke and truly inspired our students. We saw him as a speaker, not only to give just a presentation, but someone we can really move mountains with, get involved with and roll up our sleeves. We like to not just teach about an issue, but do service work.
“It was important to educate the girls in and out of the classroom, not just about global hunger, but hunger in our country and in our backyard and communities. The fact the food is going to such a great place is so inspirational, and you can’t think of a better service project.”
Lola Milazzo, an incoming freshman from Annunciation parish in Crestwood, was visiting the garden for the first time.
“I thought it was really beautiful. I was interested in the premise of the project, and coming here I was interested in what we’re doing and providing food for people who don’t have it,” she said.
Rosemary Beirne took over as Ursuline principal July 1 after teaching at the school for seven years.
“They teach me more than I will ever teach them about giving back,” she said of her students.