Ten years ago a small grassroots group of nutritional justice activists from Northern California retrofitted a pair of buses to run on recycled vegetable oil and solar power and set south on a mission to plant orchards at low-income public schools throughout the Golden State.
Since their humble beginnings, Common Vision has planted over 6,500 fruit trees at hundreds of schools from San Diego to Sacramento, attracted seed money from corporate leaders like Organic Valley, Nutiva and Clif Bar, and even won an Emmy Award for a PBS television documentary about their one-of-a-kind traveling tree-planting troupe, best known to students as Fruit Tree Tour.
Now, with a little help from multi-Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter Jason Mraz and farming cooperative Organic Valley, the all-volunteer army of modern-day Johnny Appleseeds is announcing its most ambitious goal yet— orchards in the ground at 1,000 California public schools by 2025.
To reach to its goal, Common Vision has launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise the $60,000 it needs to get started. Jason Mraz and his foundation, who are long-time supporters of tree-planting initiatives, including a school orchard at Burbank Elementary in his homebase of San Diego, is supporting. While Organic Valley, a longtime sponsor, is making dollar-for-dollar matching donations doubling the impact of every gift.
Common Vision believes that every child deserves a direct relationship with healthy, organic food, but growing social inequality deprives millions of California students of this right. Today, over 6.5 million American kids live in food deserts, and 3.6 million are enrolled in free and reduced public school lunch programs in California alone. For many kids a school lunch of over-processed, high-calorie filler is their main meal of the day.
School orchards are edible classrooms that provide students with fresh fruit and a direct relationship with healthy foods. Orchards on campus solve local and global problems by creating access to fresh food while serving as living laboratories that offer kids hands-on opportunities to learn earth sciences at a time when there has never been a greater need for eco-literacy. Students learn essentials about everything from the importance of protecting pollinators to reversing the global climate crisis.
As California’s deepest drought on record puts unprecedented pressure on commercial agriculture, school orchards irrigated with ultra-efficient drip systems create urgently-needed nutritional oases that grow food closer to home using less water. Campus to cafeteria school orchard programs cut water usage to grow fruit by over 40% and carbon emissions by almost 100% compared to imported fruit that travels hundreds or even thousands of miles.
“Many Americans with the privilege of shopping at Whole Foods and farmers markets take for granted having easy access to healthy food,” shares Michael Flynn, director of education for Common Vision. “But for millions of students living in one of California’s food deserts, healthy food is hard to come by. Imagine if the only food you ever had access to was what is available at a gas station. How would your feel? School orchards are edible classrooms that offer long-term solutions for nutritional justice and essential environmental education. Each dollar we get helps us put a fruit tree in the ground and a piece of free, fresh fruit in the hands of ten more students and give generations to come a natural place to live and learn.”
“Common Vision is a lean, green, orchard planting machine.” shares Leo Buc, director of Common Vision. “Our school orchard program already serves over 100,000 low-income students on a tiny budget. With the help of countless donors, volunteers, and partners we’ll make it a million by 2025. Give a kid a piece of fruit, and feed her for a day. Teach her how to care for an orchard and feed her community for generations!”