Riveridge, Connecting Local Farms and Education

November 21, 2011

By Brittany Wright, Media + Outreach Specialist

Last month, I traveled with a team from Chicago to Sparta, Mich. with an excited group of Canter Middle School students or a field trip to Riveridge Orchards for National Apple Day! 

During the trip, students learned about Farm to School and how apples go from tree to lunch tray. Chicago Public Schools has one of the largest farm to school programs in the country, bringing more than $2 million worth of regionally-grown fruit and vegetables to students each year. This includes flash-frozen vegetables as well as fresh produce like the tasty in-season apples students were able to sample during their visit to the orchard. 

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A student picks apples during a field trip to Riveridge farms

I spoke with Riveridge president Don Armock about providing educational opportunities for students and local community members. The produce company represents nearly 150 farmers and growers along Lake Michigan’s western shores.

The farmers’ relationship with the Windy City developed from a demand to source products closer to home for environmental and community reasons. Armock said, “we’re trying to be effective and good regional suppliers. Chicago fits right in with those plans.”

The Riveridge head said that supporting local farms supports the growth of communities.”The money that’s spent comes back to the farms here. It is essentially spent in the grower community or the community at large,” he explained. 

DSCF1562 rszSupporting local farmers also supports fresh foods for children. Armock points out that “when you don’t support local farms, the price of those good is spent miles away, by that token children would eat apples that are that many miles less fresh.”

Aside from sustaining the environment and reducing carbon footprint, locally produced foods are less processed and are always in-season. Local foods are fresher and more flavorful which contributing to a healthier, great-tasting school meal. 

Farm to school programs also offer wonderful opportunities — like this visit — for students to see where their food comes from and make the vital connection between the tree and, in this case, the lunch tray. 

Armock has observed that some of the children who visit their orchards have never seen apple trees. “When you know where your food comes from, when you know what’s involved, you gain a base knowledge. When we can get apples and other fresh fruits and vegetables in kids’ hands, we’re helping a generation to become healthier, informed consumers,” he said.

Many thanks to the team at Riveridge for their efforts to educate students about Farm to School and the importance of healthy eating.  

Check out our latest Farm to School updates on the HSC blog.