By Molly Dickinson

Have you ever tasted mulberries? If you live in urban Atlanta, chances are a mulberry tree is staining the sidewalk purple just blocks from your door. Until recently, this bounty was wasted. Now, it’s feeding Atlantans who need it most.

In 2009, Craig Durkin and Aubrey Daniels saw wild apples rotting in the street, while the city’s hungry and homeless struggled to find food. A few friends, buckets and afternoons later, Concrete Jungle took root. The all-volunteer nonprofit gathers the unclaimed native produce that flourishes in Atlanta soil, delivering it to organizations like Hosea Feed the Hungry and The Children’s Home in Decatur. Last year, they donated 3,209 pounds – everything from apples and pears, to loquats and persimmons.

“Concrete Jungle is a common-sense, connect-the-dots, solution-based organization.” Robby Astrove, an environmental educator and fixture in Atlanta’s eco-activism community, met Durkin in late 2009 on a hiking tour of Atlanta’s Beltline. “Later that week, I stayed up until 4 a.m. and added all of the fruit trees I knew of. The next day, I got a call from Craig and he said I just added more trees than what they added all of last year. I had to join the team!” By year two, their harvest had nearly doubled.

Concrete Jungle’s online Food Map allows users to add trees that are “pickable” – either publicly or by owner permission. Every “pick” is volunteer-manned and organized by “scouts” who track which trees are fruiting and schedule accordingly. Picks happen May through November and at least every weekend after July. Thanks to an early crop, more than 50 pounds have already been donated for 2012.

Undonated spoils are frozen or, in the case of apples and pears, mashed into cider during the free annual Cider Fest, held in early October. Volunteers, new trees to pick, supplies and funds are always needed. Interested readers can learn more at concretejungle.org, which is regularly updated with upcoming picks, produce counts and news about their latest venture.

Dogshead Farm, on an acre of donated land in Sylvan Hills, will soon provide a greater variety of organic fruits and vegetables for more of the year. Portable, long-lasting produce like pears and carrots are priorities, as are the hot peppers and tomatoes requested by shelter partners. Sustainable agriculture, like hugelkultur (using buried wood for water management), keeps Dogshead true to its roots.

Concrete Jungle offers Atlantans a simple, powerful way to get back to the earth, while giving back to our incredible, edible city.  “At the end of the day,” says Astrove, “you’re outside and you have a great city…and you appreciate where you are. You appreciate Atlanta.”

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.