Racist tirade prompts businesses to cut ties with W. MI grower

Ottawa County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A major apple distributor has severed relations with a West Michigan grower whose son was caught on tape delivering a racist rant to a group of migrant workers.

Travis Schoenborn, the son of longtime orchard owner David Schoenborn, was later charged criminally with assaulting one of the workers.

“We became aware of the incident at EDS Schoenborn after it aired on WOOD TV,” said Trish Taylor, market manager for Riveridge Produce Marketing, an apple distributor based in Sparta.

News 8 reached out to Riveridge after people commenting on Facebook questioned where EDS Schoenborn sells its apples.

Some vowed not to purchase apples from the Conklin-area orchard. 

While the person who answered the phone at Riveridge told News 8 it had no comment, the company’s marketing manager called the newsroom to say a statement would be forthcoming.

Minutes later, Riveridge sent its statement to the newsroom via email, making it clear it had cut ties with EDS Schoenborn.

“(We) are outraged by the abusive words and racist attitudes displayed in the video. This is not who we are as a company, and is in no way representative of the larger community of growers in West Michigan. The following morning (after the story aired), we severed our relationship with EDS effective immediately. We value inclusion for all and will continue working toward creating additional two-way communication with all of our employees, packers and growers and our migrant staff who deserve the same respect and dignity and play a vital role in our community,” Taylor wrote in the statement.

Another West Michigan company also stopped doing business with EDS Schoenborn after the story aired Wednesday.

Aseltine Cider Company of Comstock Park told News 8 it is no longer associated with the orchard. John Klamt of Aseltine said he was “appalled” by the racist language and behavior captured on video and immediately cut ties with EDS Schoenborn.

David Schoenborn provided this statement to News 8 Friday:

We are a multi-generation farm and are a very simple family. We have had a longtime positive relationship with most of our domestic and non-domestic migrant workers and many of them return to our farm every year. The simple truth is that we depend on our workers and could not go on without them. It is important for our neighbors and community to know that my son is very sorry for his hurtful statements. That was not his true self and there are no excuses for these words and they reveal areas that he needs to work on.

These horrible words are not who we are. As farmers, we need one another, and we work side-by-side with people of all backgrounds. Our farm tries to meet the highest standards at all times. It’s what keeps many of our employees, who have options, coming back every year. We pay our employees, depending on experience, as much as 18 to 20 dollars per hour. New workers start at around $10 per hour with a bonus.

We have removed our son from any managerial role at the farm. We continue to respect all in our industry who are trying so hard to protect the American farmer.

We have tried to build our lives around faith, farming and family. We hope that the community will not use this one moment to define us.

David Schoenborn, on behalf of EDS Schoenborn Orchards

News 8 also reached out to the Michigan Apple Committee, which responded with a statement from its executive director, Diane Smith:

“We can assure you that the behavior of the growers involved in the event that was reported is in no way representative of the 775 apple-growing families in our state. Our growers respect and care for their employees, all of whom are critical to skillfully harvesting their fruit and sending it safely to market. 

The Michigan Apple industry takes great pride in not only producing high quality fruit but also in providing safe, healthy work environments for their employees. As always, Michigan Apple Committee supports social responsibility and stands with all the workers whose labor ensures that consumers can continue to enjoy Michigan apples.”

Diane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee

Frank J. Guglielmi, corporate communications for Meijer, said the company does not purchase from the orchard.

“We do not purchase any produce from them. One of our larger suppliers sources from them but have since discontinued the relationship,” he said in a statement.

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