Drive through the streets of Richmond, California, and you’ll notice an abundance of fruit trees—nearly 600, in fact. It’s all thanks to the Nutiva School Orchard Initiative, a program Nutiva has been growing from the ground up since 2007. The program is flourishing now (producing up to 50,000 pounds of fruit per year!), and makes makes fresh, healthy food accessible to students throughout the district.
According to Nutiva’s nonprofit partner Common Vision, Richmond has a history of enduring short-term projects from well-meaning companies who eventually disappear from town, so many school district staff members were apprehensive. But Nutiva always planned to be a long-term ally. “Nutiva’s ongoing commitment to supporting schools with the materials, training, and on-the-ground support continues to be a tremendously important demonstration of long-term investment in the community,” Common Vision Executive Director Michael Flynn shared.
Since 2004, Common Vision has designed and planted more than 300 school orchards across California. “As we return to the schools year after year, we’ve identified which tree varieties produce fruit in the varying microclimates and what elements a school orchard needs to be successful,” Michael said. Here are some of the most popular types of fruit you’ll find in Richmond’s orchards:
To keep the trees hydrated, Common Vision installs automated drip irrigation systems so every tree gets the right amount of water year-round. The organization also trains and supports teachers, garden coordinators, and principals at every school.
So far, the Nutiva Foundation has donated an orchard to more than 28 public schools, totaling 1.25 acres. “Eighty percent of these students qualify for the free or reduced-cost lunch program,” Michael said. “Not only are these organic snacks an important part of a healthy diet, but the delicious fruits provide an important connection to the food they eat.”
Eighty percent of these students qualify for the free or reduced-cost lunch program. Not only are these organic snacks an important part of a healthy diet, but the delicious fruits provide an important connection to the food they eat.
The most recent school year was a big milestone for the program, as the original orchards entered mature fruit production for the first time. Students at Richmond College Prep Elementary and Washington Elementary were able to get their hands dirty, harvesting hundreds of pounds of fruit. It’s a pretty sweet way to offer healthier snacks, and extra fruit is often sent home with students to share with their family and neighbors.
Garden coordinator Graciella Rossi commented on the special relationship students develop with the trees. “That’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for kids to connect with nature, and to connect with that tree because they planted it,” she shared. “Every year and every season, that child checks on the tree to make sure it’s growing. They’re taking ownership in being stewards of the garden.”
As for the future, the Nutiva Foundation is continuing its commitment to supporting regenerative agriculture programs. “We recently helped fund a film, Kiss The Ground, that’s being screened globally,” said Virginia Watkins, a marketing specialist at Nutiva. “We also support the Kiss The Ground organization, which provides ongoing online training to farmers, soil scientists, business owners, and teachers to help with everything from implementing school gardens to improving large-scale farms.”