Photo by Jess Winchester
I eat a lot of fruit: strawberries, blueberries, apples, bananas, all purchased during my weekly trips to the grocery store. But many Atlantans aren’t as fortunate as I am. Struggling to feed their families, they can’t afford to splurge on pricey produce. Enter Concrete Jungle, a nonprofit organization focused on harvesting fruit found around the city and donating it to local food banks and shelters. During the past eight years, Concrete Jungle has found and donated more than 38,000 pounds of local produce that would have otherwise expired in yards, parks, and streets around the city.
“The food problems in the U.S. are [mostly] about nutrition. It’s hard to get good, fresh food,” says Concrete Jungle co-founder Craig Durkin. “The Atlanta Community Food Bank is trying to place a bigger emphasis on getting fresh fruit and produce, so we’re helping play a part in that as well.”
The organization, which is run by its board, one full-time employee, and as many as 900 volunteers a year, is hosting a Fruit Ramble fundraiser on May 21. Now in its third year, the Fruit Ramble begins with fruit picking and sampling in Virginia-Highland with different routes for those picking fruit on bike or on foot. “We try to focus on getting a lot of variety of fruit to show people the tremendous range of things that grow here,” Durkin says.
The Ramble is expected to draw 200 to 300 people and kicks off at 3:30 p.m. at Orpheus Brewing. It culminates in a fruit-themed carnival and raffle at 5:30 p.m. Tickets cost $25 for adults and $5 for children.
We spoke with Durkin about Concrete Jungle’s efforts, origins, and plans for the future.
How did Concrete Jungle get its start? It grew out of a cider party. We inherited an apple press for making cider, and that got us thinking where we would get the apples themselves. From then on we tried to pay attention to the trees everywhere we went in Atlanta, and we found a ton of apple trees. We picked the fruit and filled our basements and freezers. At the end, we had a big party with all of the cider. The party (Ciderfest) is still going. It’ll probably be the first weekend in October this year.
Why did you start donating fruit? One year we got way too many apples (for Ciderfest). We didn’t need them all but didn’t want them to go to waste, so we started donating them. Then we started discovering all of the other things that grow around here–pears, figs, mulberries . . . that was 2009, when Concrete Jungle was born.
How has the organization evolved over the years? Every year we are able to pick more fruit, but it’s just a small fraction of the fruit we know about in the Atlanta area. There’s so much out there going to waste and there are people who need [the food]. People who want to get involved can become tree parents:They adopt a tree and send us a photo weekly, which helps us figure out when the fruit is ready for harvest. We also have a partnership with Georgia Tech to develop sensor technology that is placed in a tree and can detect when fruit is ready to be picked.
Tell me about your Food Map. It started as a way for us to keep track of trees back when we were picking apples for Ciderfest. But we also want to be a public resource. We have 2,800 fruit trees—20 types! Now we can store data about each tree to predict when it is usually ready for harvest.
What are your plans for the future? The goal is to gather as much fruit as we can, increase the amount we can donate, increase the parts of the city we can reach, and prevent food from going to waste. For most people, the stuff growing in their yard is a burden, and it seems like it shouldn’t be.