Chicago ag, culinary students get farm-to-fork experience

Chicago Public Schools students visit SW Michigan farm, apple packing facility

Ag, culinary students visit orchard in farm-to-fork field trip

Hartford, Mich.  (Oct. 10, 2014) – Nearly 100 Chicago Public High School students had a unique farm-to-fork experience this week when they visited a Southwest Michigan apple orchard and packing house to see the journey of apples from the trees into packages bound for their local stores and cafeterias.

The students, who are culinary and agricultural students from Marshall High School on Chicago’s west side and Chicago Vocational Career Academy on the south side, visited High Acres Fruit Farm in Hartford, a Riveridge grower and packing partner.  The students were very excited about the opportunity as most had never visited an orchard, and none had ever been in a commercial orchard or commercial packing facility.

“We enjoyed partnering with Cristina Foods of Chicago in putting this event together,” said Justin Finkler, Riveridge Operations Manager.  “It’s exciting to see the ‘lights’ go on as young people realize just how much work goes into getting an apple off a tree and onto their cafeteria tray.”

Cristina Foods supplies almost exclusively Michigan-grown apples for the half of Chicago Public Schools that they supply.  Cristina Foods’ founder and president, Cesar Dovalina, accompanied the students on the visit and commented that in years past CPS students received only Red Delicious apples.  He has since acquainted them with Braeburn, Gala, Fuji and many other regional and mainstream apple varieties to improve their appreciation and consumption of fresh produce.

During the afternoon visit, students’ questions were fielded by Riveridge Operations Manager Justin Finkler, and Mark Longstroth the Southwest Michigan fruit educator for Michigan State University, among others.  Farm owner Trever Meachum, also a Commissioner with the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development, demonstrated harvesting equipment and talked about the care that goes into planting, maintaining and picking apples.

A popular feature was a cooking demonstration of apple flambe’ by noted Grand Rapids, Mich., chef Tommy FitzGerald, who also teaches culinary students in that city.  Culinary students helped serve the dish, and were impressed with how rapidly the dessert could be made.   They learned about some additional careers in culinary arts from FitzGerald.

The outreach event was coordinated by Riveridge Produce of Sparta, Mich.; Cristina Foods, Inc., of Chicago; and Shafer Lake Fruit to engage youths in local agriculture, with sponsorship by the Michigan Apple Committee, Burnette Foods and the Michigan Apple Marketing Cooperative Marketing Association.

Michigan is the nation’s third-largest apple producing state.  For more than 100 years, the “fruit belt” in Southwest Michigan has supplied fruit, especially apples, to Chicago.  Riveridge Produce, Inc., is a vertically integrated apple grower/packer/shipper selling apples in about 26 states and a dozen foreign countries.