TNT's Dramatic Difference Features Green Bronx Machine

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Original Post Date: January 2014

Educator and Green Bronx Machine Founder, Stephen Ritz and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz discuss urban farming, sustainable education and opportunities for youth in the Bronx.

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Mobile Edible Wall Units: Growing Healthy Food and Minds

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Original Post Date: January 2014

What do you get when you put an inspiring technology into the hands of high school students? You get real life applications of 21st Century Skills which can be translated into job skills in industries related to agriculture and the sciences.

The Mobile Edible Wall Unit, better known as a "MEWU", which is pronounced "mee woo", is the invention of Green Living Technologies, a Rochester, New York-based company founded by New Jersey native, George Irwin. These walls are increasingly being used in schools for indoor school gardens, in school greenhouses and are broadening the biology and science related learning taking place in high schools that have them.

We first heard about MEWUs from teacher Steve Ritz, who was the keynote speaker at the Green Schools Alliance Conference in New York a few years back. Steve was using the walls in his classroom at the time at Discovery High School in the Bronx. His students were keenly interested in the hands-on applications the walls provided and were seeing first hand what the technological applications were for growing plants and food. Fast forward to 2014 and some of these same students continue to be hired to work on professional job sites, using the skills they gained while incorporating Green Living Technologies' educational programs into their day to day class instruction.

Here in New Jersey, the first school to purchase a MEWU was Monroe Township High School, where Nancy Mitrocsak, the food service director for the district, learned about the walls through the New Jersey Farm to School Network and went on a mission to find funding to bring them to the high school. With the support of District Supervisor of Sciences and Social Studies, Bonnie Burke-Casaletto, the school incorporated the walls into their expanded greenhouse program and teacher Christian Jessop and his students have been using them ever since. In a recent email exchange, the team updated us on their progress, "As a quick and exciting update-we're collaborating with Helen in our Food Service department to harvest a complete wall of basil! It looks and smells wonderful and Mr. Jessop has done much under tough weather conditions during our holiday break to keep our student-created growth projects thriving on-site. Things are green and flourishing."

Meanwhile, at South Hunterdon High School in Tiffany Morey's Floral Design Class, FFA (Future Farmers of America) student Mitchell Haug contributed the following report about the use of a MEWU with fellow students Charles McDaniel, Patrick Charles, Collin Leary, and Isaiah Jones.

"Ever since we unloaded the Green Wall that was loaned to us by New Jersey Farm To School on December 6th and set it up in our Ag Shop, it's been nothing but good times. From packing the boxes with soil to seeding, watering, and overcoming a few engineering challenges, the Wall has provided us with a challenging yet rewarding learning experience.

As the five guys in the floral design class, we weren't always as excited when it came to putting together centerpieces or assembling corsages and boutonnieres, but we did all share a passion for agriculture. When our advisor came to us with the offer that we could use class time to grow and take care of plants in an innovative way, we were thrilled. It wasn't long before we were putting together the wall and loading it up with soil.

Since then we have seen promising results. While there were some early issues with a water recycling system and soil erosion, these issues have since been resolved and we have begun to see germination and the beginnings of life. We currently have six varieties of lettuce planted that we plan to use in the school's cafeteria and culinary classes. We look forward to continuing with the wall and seeing what we can produce!"

To learn more about the Mobile Edible Wall Unit, click here. Green Living Technologies and the New Jersey Farm to School Network are collaborating on a program to bring more MEWUs into New Jersey schools. If your school or district is interested in learning more, please email us at and put MEWU in the subject line.

Vertical Gardens Bring Greenery to Cities

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Original Post Date: April 22, 2013

Stephen Ritz, a teacher in New York City public schools and the founder of Green Bronx Machine, shows how vertical “living wall” gardens can teach kids about protecting the environment and bring a little green to concrete jungles.

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Donate fresh food? There's an app for that, coming soon from a N.J. man - and former New Jersey Learner! (By Eunice Lee)

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food-app-livingston-nj.JPGLivingston resident and volunteer Chris Bickel knows what it's like to go hungry. He spent eight months homeless as a teenager.

ESSEX COUNTY — Want to donate more fresh food to your local pantry? Talk to Livingston resident Chris Bickel — he is working on an app for that.

An active volunteer with local pantries and the first townwide Food Day coming up on Wednesday, Bickel is raising funds to build a mobile app that’s a new twist on old-fashioned giving to food banks.

His app idea, which has gained traction with local pantries, basically creates a "virtual refrigerator" on your smart phone or tablet. The app makes it possible to donate money for healthful foods or actually select the foods — tomatoes, green beans, a dozen eggs.

"The fresh stuff is really what’s going to make people feel better," he said.

Eileen Sweeny, coordinator of Pantry Partners for United Way of Northern New Jersey, has been in talks with Bickel about developing the app and believes it will increase healthier options in pantries beyond Livingston.

If the donor gives money, the donation will be sent directly to the designated pantry or soup kitchen for purchasing fresh food. If the donor purchases, say, two bags of apples or three heads of lettuce, it will be delivered directly to the designated charity by participating stores. Several grocers already have expressed interest, Bickel said.

"I think it has enormous potential," said Sweeny, noting that three years ago United Way began its own push for more items like whole wheat pasta or low-sodium canned vegetables. "It could change what’s in food pantries and soup kitchens across the country."

The app will also feature a dashboard that shows in real time what a charity’s greatest needs are using charts and graphs. Bickel said he needs to raise a few thousand dollars to get the app professionally developed.

Livingston volunteer Chris Bickel knows what it's like to go hungry. He spent eight months homeless as a teenager.

Bickel knows what it’s like to go hungry. Growing up in Ventnor, he was the second youngest of eight children in a household where food stamps put meals on the table. At 16, he was homeless for about eight months and was helped by an English teacher and his rowing coach.

Now the supervisor of social studies for Livingston Public Schools, Bickel, 43, serves as the district’s liaison to the township’s Food Day Committee — which has organized events throughout the month to celebrate healthful food and raise hunger awareness — and has become one of its biggest advocates. On Oct. 14, volunteers including Bickel and the Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse filled a school bus full of donated goods for a series of "Stuff The Bus" events around Essex County.

Many times, hunger is a silent problem in suburbia. "Sue," a 48-year-old Livingston resident, is one example. As a working single mom of three, she struggles to make ends meet and receives food from St. Philomena’s pantry. She did not want to give her name.

The economy hit her family hard when her husband, whom she is separated from, had his salary cut in half. That, in turn, slashed the child support she receives.

"My kids are happy with a box of pasta," she said, but as a mother she wants to give them more. "Food is definitely an expense, and I’m trying to make sure they get chicken and all the stuff that they should be getting."

"The money they do have they’re using on taxes or their mortgage, and (residents) scrimp on food," said Sister Barbara Howard of St. Philomena’s, which has partnered with Bickel.

And it’s not easy to rely on food pantries in a well-to-do town like Livingston.

"We live in a town where people have two, three homes or vacation in Mexico every break or get a car on their 17th birthday," the single mom said.

To contact Bickel or support his effort to create an app, send an e-mail message to

Learn more about the Cloud Institute's New Jersey Learns Program: /new-jersey-learns