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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Q&A with the urban foragers of Concrete Jungle

GATHERERS: Concrete Jungles (clockwise from top) Katherine Kennedy, Aubrey Daniels, and Craig Durkin,
  • Kyle Bowman
  • GATHERERS: Concrete Jungle's (clockwise from top) Katherine Kennedy, Aubrey Daniels, and Craig Durkin.
I recently found myself holding a giant tarp with a dozen other volunteers under an apple tree. It was just before noon on a sunny Saturday during the last weekend of August, and we were standing in the front yard of someone we had never met before. Looking up, we watched an adventurous volunteer climb to the top of the tall apple tree. He began shaking the branches with his full body weight. Suddenly, it was raining apples into our tarp. It was my first urban foraging experience with Concrete Jungle.

Foraging apples with Concrete Jungle

Founded in 2009, Concrete Jungle is an organization that collects and donates foraged produce from all over Atlanta to the city's homeless. On this particular day, we were able to donate nearly 300 pounds of apples to local shelters. The project is organized and executed by Aubrey Daniels, Craig Durkin, and Katherine Kennedy. By day, Kennedy teaches farming to special needs children, Daniels works as finance consultant, and Durkin is working on an app that will help local farms more efficiently obtain mulch from tree removal companies. Between leading urban foraging excursions and day jobs, the trio also tends to Dog Head Farm, an urban farm they started in 2012 on a one-acre parcel of land in East Point.

Gearing up for the fall harvest, I caught up with all three to learn more about urban foraging, what's growing around Atlanta right now, and what the future holds for the Concrete Jungle crew.

Tell us about urban foraging.

Aubrey Daniels: It is taking publicly available produce or produce on private residences obtained with permission, and collecting it. We don't pick from people's private gardens, but we do take from their fruit trees. Most people just can't handle the quantity of food that a fruit tree produces.

Katherine Kennedy: For Concrete Jungle picks, we deal with fruit, because vegetables require so much ongoing care. Sadly, I don't know any secret vegetable patches.

How did Concrete Jungle begin?

AD: We began foraging unpicked apples to supply our annual cider fest. We kept exponentially increasing the number of apples until one year we had over a ton and a half of apples in a friend's living room. We gave these away and in 2009 launched our nonprofit.

How much foraged food are you able to donate annually?

AD: Several thousand pounds per year. This year we are already up to three thousand, and hoping to get at least five or six thousand.

What is your volunteer base like?

KK: The fruit picking and helping the homeless are the most attractive for our volunteers. It is not the foodie crowd that is coming out. It would be fun if we could get the foodies more involved. We need to make it sexier so they can get it into it.

CD: Sexy jungle night?

KK: Yes, we need to have sexy jungle night.

Or maybe a bikini pick? Well, that might be tough with all the thorns and berries.

CD: That could be even sexier ...

KK: For some.

What is the most plentiful thing to pick in Atlanta?

AD: Apples. Pears can have good years.

CD: I would say there are more serviceberry trees and mulberry trees than apple trees.

What are some of the more unusual fruits that grow in Atlanta?

CD: Probably pomegranates. Also, quince, paw paws, and flying dragon.

When is your busiest time of year?

AD: Right now. Apple season.

What are the best intown neighborhoods for picking?

CD: Cabbagetown and East Atlanta are impressive.

KK: We got a thousand pounds off of five trees in the Old Fourth Ward and Grant Park.

Tell us about Dog Head Farm.

CD: A friend of mine owned it. He moved to San Francisco and he said do whatever you want with it.

KK: Right now, we are harvesting lots of cucumbers. We are finally getting eggplants on. Bell peppers, tomatoes, and squash are our other summer crops. In the fall, we will grow sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, radishes and collard greens.

Do you have any new projects on the horizon?

KK: We are experimenting with a GA food culture project with Empire State South. We grow native okra, tomatoes, citron, beans, and other produce for them on a small plot. It's a cool relationship where we can both support each other.

For picking, we are looking to develop volunteer leaders to lead picks in their neighborhoods.

At Dog Head, we are seeing the soil get better and better. We are continuing to try to make this into a lasting healthy ecosystem.

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