Before Kroger, Publix and Whole Foods, we used to have to forage for fruit. Plucking plums, pears and, of course, peach trees was something every Atlantan could do. It still is, if you know where to look.
Craig Durkin, co-founder of Concrete Jungle, knows where to look. Since 2009, he has developed a sharp-eye for fruit trees throughout the city, identifying more than 2,800 trees in 20 varieties. With that knowledge, Durkin organizes fruit picks from May to November to collect forgotten fruit and engage those in Atlanta who believe the best diets are those that are handpicked.
The fruit trees identified by Durkin are found in yards, forgotten orchards, and sometimes in unexpected urban areas. Most of the trees are untended and disregarded, so their fruit is wasted while many poor and homeless struggle to find fresh produce. After a picking, Concrete Jungle shares their bounty with local food banks and shelters such as Mercy Community Church and Atlanta Mission.
The first fruit picks were simply Durkin and co-founder Audrey Daniels, but Concrete Jungle has grown to become a nonprofit, hired Katherine Kennedy as director and organized partnerships, fundraisers and plans pickings on the weekends and evenings.
This fall, Concrete Jungle will focus on picking persimmons and pomegranates as weather permits.
“The weather is always weird and unpredictable. One of the big challenges we face with Concrete Jungle is the logistics of identifying trees ready to be picked,” he says.
Maintaining the food map is a time consuming job for Durkin, who regularly monitors which trees are ready to be picked and anticipating which trees will be producing.
Like a modern day Johnny Appleseed, Durkin would like to see Concrete Jungle work alongside Trees Atlanta to plant more fruit trees. Fruit trees do need more care as they establish, but the payoff is as many as 20 years bearing fruit, Durkin said.
During a recent pick on a Thursday evening, Durkin and 10 volunteers plucked pears in Virginia-Highland. In total, they gathered over 500 pounds of fruit.
“Picks are fun because there’s a bit of discovery and improvisation involved with them. Trees are often found in unexpected places and this provides good juxtaposition in an urban environment,” Durkin said. “Additionally, there’s no right way to pick a tree, so people come up with all sorts of different methods: hand-picking, climbing a tree, shaking branches, using fruit pickers, etc.”
In addition to gleaning the fruit trees of Atlanta, Concrete Jungle is on a mission to provide vegetables as well as fruit to those in need. The nonprofit grows vegetables on a small urban farm in Southwest Atlanta called Doghead Farm., a slip of land just north of East Point.
“It’s incredibly satisfying for myself and for our volunteers to be able to participate in something that’s both fun and helpful to others,” Durkin said. “And sometimes you get to climb trees.”
Doghead Farm will have an open house Saturday, Oct. 20 at noon with fresh pressed cider from a pedal-powered cider press. For more details about the open house and to find out about pickings, visit concrete-jungle.org.