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Riveridge Produce Marketing opens orchards to Food Bank

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Sparta-based Riveridge invites volunteers to pick apples for families at risk of hunger.
A Food Bank volunteer picks apples at an orchard in Ada.

A Food Bank volunteer picks apples at an orchard in Ada. /Feeding America West Michigan

Volunteers haul apples up a hill. Surplus food is gleaned from local farms every year.

Volunteers haul apples up a hill. Surplus food is gleaned from local farms every year. /Feeding America West Michigan

It’s a boom year for Michigan apple growers, and one apple seller in Sparta is sharing that bounty with hungry families.

On October 26 and 30, Riveridge Produce Marketing, Inc. will welcome volunteers from Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank, based in Comstock Park, to glean apples in their orchards. The company, which represents 100 family-run apple orchards and manages 700 acres directly, has provided apples to the Food Bank Council of Michigan since 1998. This will be the first year Feeding America West Michigan has gathered fruit from Riveridge’s trees directly.

“Being good neighbors is really important to Riveridge,” said company president Don Armock. “Meeting our neighbors’ hunger needs is near and dear to the hearts of Riveridge as a company.”

“We’re grateful,” said Feeding America West Michigan CEO Ken Estelle. “This is a fantastic opportunity to get fresh fruit, in season, to the people we serve.”

Riveridge’s orchards are just a few miles west of the Food Bank on Fruit Ridge, one of the state’s most fertile growing regions. Katie Auwers, in charge of product sourcing for the Food Bank, says that being located so close to the Ridge is an asset for the organization.

“There are food banks all over the country and in the southwest in particular where they don’t have access to all the different types of produce we have here,” she said.

This year’s apple crop is the largest in Michigan in decades. At an estimated 30 million bushels, apple yields are up 50 percent compared to the yearly average and are 10 times greater than last year’s frost-stunted harvest.

“Riveridge is using the term ‘vintage crop,’ which we don’t use lightly,” Armock said. Sunshine has been constant, the temperature has largely stayed under 90 degrees and fruit growers have been spared hailstorms and windstorms thus far.

It’s been such a good year that many growers may not be able to pick their entire crop before the frost. That’s where the Food Bank comes in.

“This is a win-win for everyone,” Armock said. “For us, in getting the apples picked; for the families in getting the apples; and a win in that it’s a fun way for the community to pitch in and make a difference.”

Feeding America West Michigan is calling on volunteers to help with the picking from 10 a.m. to noon on the 26th and from 4-6 p.m. on the 30th. Those interested in volunteering should contact Katie Auwers at 616-432-6961 or [email protected].

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