For 6 years, Common Vision and Nutiva have partnered to bring an orchard to every public school in Richmond, California. This Nutiva School Orchard Initiative is an unprecedented, city-wide achievement that has brought fresh, healthy, school-grown fruit to 28 schools, impacting over 13,000 students — 79.5% of who rely on free and reduced lunch.
Access to healthy, quality food is vital to immediate and long-term development, health and well-being. By bringing school orchards to Richmond, the Nutiva School Orchard Initiative is creating a more resilient foodshed for the entire city. Planting fruit trees, and later picking and eating fruit straight from those trees, shows students where their food comes from, and that they can create lasting change for their communities.
The nearly 600 trees planted through the Nutiva School Orchard Initiative come together to create over an acre of fruiting forest canopy. From apples to apricots, persimmons to plums, these sweet snacks are a healthy alternative to sugary treats that are often a go to from vending machines or corner stores. Each and every one of these trees have been planted and tended by students, alongside school staff and Common Vision’s team of volunteers. Richmond students worked in small groups to plant each tree, learning not only about healthy food, but about teamwork, tree science, how to care for the world around them.
Graciella Rossi, garden coordinator at Mira Vista School (one of the 25 Richmond schools), puts it this way: “What I thought was amazing, was that on their own, I would see students going out there and checking the trees that they planted. They’d created a relationship with that tree because they helped plant it. And that’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for kids to connect to nature, and to connect with that tree because they planted it. That means that… every year, every season, that child is checking that tree to make sure it’s growing. They’re taking on that ownership and that stewardship of that garden. And that’s what we’re trying to teach, we’re trying to teach them stewardship of taking care of not only the [trees], but each other.”
Working with students in Kindergarten through 12th grade, thousands have students have rolled up their sleeves and gotten their hands dirty (quite literally!) to plant trees in their own schoolyards. These orchards are sustainable food systems, bearing fruit that is used in school snacks and lunches. In many cases, the fruit is given to students to take home and share with their friends and neighbors.
The change brought about tangible, and immediate. Orchards are installed in just one day – in the morning there is a field or a patch of dirt, and by end of day there is an orchard. Hundreds of students, school staff and community members come together in these school-wide events, creating resources and sharing knowledge that stays within the community.
As now graduated student Jordan Howard says: “I was lucky enough to have my first experience planting trees with Common Vision as a 15 [year old]… It’s so important for students in marginalized communities to be apart of the growth of their communities and Common Vision creates these experiences. I didn’t know that I’d learn the power of community, ownership, growth and teamwork from planting a few trees one afternoon.”
This partnership is proof that corporations can create change for the communities they work in, creating resources that make a difference for years to come. As these trees mature, they will continue to bear an increasing amount of fruit, and sequester carbon in a city that deals with low air quality due to refineries and factories. As generations of students come through these schools, they will continue to learn in outdoor, living classrooms that provide a welcome break from the indoor schoolroom.
The Nutiva School Orchard Initiative is an example of the power of corporations caring for the communities they come from, and building not for them, but alongside them. Every young person deserves fresh food, hands on education, and the opportunity to create change for their own communities. As the years go on, we look forward to seeing the fruit these trees continue to bear, and the change our students continue to bring about for their communities.