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The names of the people who live in the Sparta, MI, area are largely the same names as those who settled the area in the 1840s.

"They are probably the same as they will be several generations down the road," added Don Armock, president and a partner in Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc. in Sparta, MI. It follows, then, that the area's farmers have always had a deep interest in agricultural practices that will sustain the land and lifestyle.

Mr. Armock said that the operations of Riveridge have a natural tendency to be sustainable. Riveridge is an apple grower, packer and exporter, representing some fourth-, fifth- and sixth-generation apple farmers.

In December, Riveridge announced that its Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program received verification by the Michigan Department of Agriculture. The company said the verification signified “Riveridge’s commitment to environmental stewardship. Riveridge has become an advocate of the MAEAP program and is strongly encouraging its many partner farms to follow its lead.” This is a voluntary program created to help farmers assess operations and implement sustainable business practices that benefit surrounding communities, the environment and the financial viability of the farm, he said.

The firm’s recent sustainability initiatives include new sprayer technologies, natural pest-management techniques, eco-friendly packaging, recycling and composting, all of which help reduce emissions and waste. Mr. Armock on Dec. 31 told The Produce News that some of the interesting features of the program include the building of bluebird and kestrel bird houses to attract hunters of apple-attacking insects and the cultivation of native flowers and plants to reduce erosion while attracting native bees. Barn owl habitats decrease the need to exterminate tree-harming mice and voles.

Mr. Armock sees the value of the Michigan environmental program as not so much to be a blueprint for integrated pest management practices, long-used by Riveridge, but to be a tool to develop consumer appreciation of what is happening. The firm has posted large signs along the roadside edges of its orchards to bring the good practices to the attention of passersby.

“We think the typical consumer is at least two or three generations removed from the farm in rural areas. No one knows how we grow food. We think signage on farms and the verification program is part of the education.”

He added, “Our customers recognize that consumers have expectations along these lines.”

In a recent Riveridge press release, Denise Donohue, executive director of the DeWitt-based Michigan Apple Committee, stated, “Riveridge has recognized environmental sustainability as being important to themselves, their growers and neighbors in the community, as well as their customers. Earning the MAEAP designation is the public stamp of approval that farming is being conducted in an environmentally friendly way.”