‘America’s Favourite Teacher’ Stephen Ritz Outlines His Urban Farming Vision in Abu Dhabi International Book Fair Virtual Session

The American educator, urban farmer and innovator Stephen Ritz revealed how his tower garden-growing technology is flourishing in the UAE during the latest Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (ADIBF) Virtual Session.

The talk, titled ‘Changing the World with the Power of a Plant’, on Thursday covered Ritz’s rise to fame through his innovative teaching methods in some of the USA’s poorest communities, his ongoing projects in the UAE, and the numerous books he has published.

As the 30th edition of ADIBF has been postponed until next year, the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) has instead organised the Virtual Sessions for scheduled guests to present their talks online, so viewers can watch safely in their homes.

Ritz, who has become known as ‘America’s Favourite Teacher’, has spawned a green movement through the changes he brought to the school where he taught in the South Bronx, New York. Utilising hydroponics and aquaponics, he began to grow plants in the classroom, which in turn encouraged his students to follow sustainable and healthy lifestyles.

He first came to the UAE in 2015 as one of the 10 finalists in the Global Teacher Prize. While he didn’t win, he used his runner-up prize money to create the Green Bronx Machine, a curriculum for a green classroom, which is now being taught around the world.

His work caught the attention of HE Dr Abdulla Al Karam, Chairman of the Board of Directors and Director-General of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) in Dubai, who invited Ritz back to the UAE. Soon Ritz was visiting schools, universities and businesses here to explain his methods. He also began working alongside Sheikh Dr Abdul Aziz bin Ali Al Nuaimi, the Environmental Adviser to the Government of Ajman, who is also known as the ‘Green Sheikh’ for his environmental work. The pair are currently authoring a book called Bringing the Farm to the Desert to be released in 2021.

Ritz also works with Esol Education, the international network of private schools that operates many schools across the UAE, and has been appointed as its Director of Health, Wellness and Innovation. He is now based at Fairgreen International School in The Sustainable City, Dubai, hence he says he now thinks of the UAE as his “second home”.

Ritz said he enjoys nothing more than meeting children, inspiring teachers, inspiring healthy living, and inspiring healthy learning for everyone across the UAE through his passion, purpose and hope.

Other ADIBF Virtual Sessions have featured the Swedish behavioural expert Thomas Erikson, military survival specialist John Hudson; Lemn Sissay, the award-winning British-Ethiopian poet; and Annabel Karmel, the children’s cookbook author.

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