MEET Aubrey and Craig: fruit fanatics and super great cider makers
Fruit! Fruit! Fruit! Did you know that Atlanta is surrounded by delicious, edible and free fruit? Neither did we. We sat down with the guys behind Concrete Jungle, an organization dedicated to harvesting and donating unwanted and unused fruit, vegetables and other food stuffs, to learn how they discovered this free cornucopia. Meet Aubrey and Craig.
Tell us about project:
Craig: We pick fruit and we donate it to homeless shelters and food banks.
Aubrey: There is a lot of climbing trees. We often ride our bikes to the trees to test them first. There are a lot of basic logistics around our fruit. I would say we are very pro fruit!
How did Concrete Jungle get started?
Craig: It is sort of a long story. We started dumpster diving because when you are in college sometimes that is what you have to do. Even back in high school we found this great backpack of candy and super soakers. We have had some pivotal dumpster diving moments that solidified our thought that there is a treasure trove of items out there. If you are at the right place at the right time you will leave a happy person. One year we found like 50 cases of Gatorade.
Aubrey: It stacked up around 3 cases high and took up our living room wall. We drank Gatorade for like a month.
Craig: Eventually we noticed there were a lot of fruit trees growing around town so we transitioned from dumpsters to apple trees. One summer we decided to pick all the apples we could find, freeze them and then make cider with our friends in the Fall. One year we had way too many. We picked around 3,400 pounds of apples. It was way too much. Ciderfest wasn’t fun for a lot of folks that year, it was more… exhausting.
Aubrey: We had to work really hard to use up all of those apples. We make cider in our friends Grandfathers yard so we can’t just leave excess apples, we had to finish them.
Craig: Concrete Jungle grew out of that. We had picked too much fruit for us to use, but someone could benefit from it.
What challenges have you faced?
Aubrey: Our main challenge is time. The fruit is always there once you start to look for it, but it takes a giant amount of our time. To set up a picking event, first you have to know where all the trees are in a neighborhood. Next you have to drive around and either taste every tree or study it to see if it is ripe. I would say only about half or a third of the picks we plan turn out, maybe the fruit isn’t ready, or it has already fallen off, it is hard to get it right. We need more people to be doing the little stuff. It is fun, but when there are only two people organizing everything, it is a time commitment.
Craig: Hopefully we will get an intern to help with everything. There are big logistics issues. It is difficult because there are all these trees ripening at slightly different times. Also, we are only really harvesting in Northeast Atlanta, there are so many trees we don’t know about. So how do we scale this without it taking over our lives? That is really the question.
What inspires you to do this work?
Craig: Folks really love it! People are so warm and excited about it. Recently, I got a card from someone who lives in Massachusetts and read about us in the New York Times. It had a $50 check with it and said “you guys are awesome”. We are pretty good friends with one of the women who works at a shelter we donate to. It makes a big difference in the quality of stuff they get. Being November, it is the end of the season and there is going to be a big hole in what those people get to eat.
Aubrey: And frankly when we get a group to come pick with us, it is just fun. People hanging out with us and biking around for an afternoon, it is great.
Craig: We think of projects too. Like Aubrey really wants to make an inflatable tarp for falling fruit to keep it from bruising and I want to make some type of tweeting sensor to tell you when the fruit is ready.
What type of impact are you having on the community?
Craig: The folks that we are feeding are benefiting. We donate to a place where they take drinks, sandwiches and fruit to feed people. They especially take food to people who are stationed near the Home Depot on Ponce de Leon. It was just pear season and they were going through bushels of fresh pears each day.
Aubrey: There have been times when we drive to shelters to drop off the fruit, and after a few times the workers recognize us as “the fruit man” and they come out to see what we have. I think what we do is very straight forward- it doesn’t require any money to do and for our volunteers it doesn’t require a lot of time. We are not doing anything gigantic but people really like it.
Who are you collaborating with?
Aubrey: We are too simple right now for collaborations. We did get a fruit map from Trees Atlanta that shows all their service berry trees they planted. As we grow collaboration will be important, but not yet.
Craig: I can see the need soon, especially since we just got a farm to manage and use. It is down in East Point. A friend of ours owned it and just moved away. Hopefully it will let us connect with other folks and offer more options.
Would you like to see your work expanded or replicated?
Aubrey: There are similar organizations in other cities already. The problem is that there isn’t a lot of use collaborating back in forth with them. Like in Toronto they tap trees for maple syrup- that is awesome, but we can’t do that in Atlanta. Also, once we map our city, that doesn’t help anyone else map their city. I like the idea of getting other cities to do the same thing, but it would require a person or two to be dedicated in each city.
Craig: I go back and forth. People write to me from Charlestown or Birmingham saying they really want us to consider expanding. Part of me thinks about how much fruit we are still not collecting here but part of me doesn’t care and thinks how great it would be to expand elsewhere. The reality is that we don’t have something we can export. Potentially some of the software stuff we have developed for keeping track of trees might be useful to other folks. Since we are volunteers it is hard to go to other cities to find similar full -time volunteers.
Aubrey: We are working towards having an intern. Mostly to take some of the work off our shoulders but also to be a full time contact person for the year. We are trying to pay for it by turning ourselves from a zero income organization to something that has a little revenue. If we could get Atlanta settled and really working well, we could then hire interns outside of Atlanta to launch other cities.
What kind of help might you need?
Craig: For our intern, we are looking for an industrial engineer or GIS person to help us develop things.
Aubrey: I want the Atlanta road bike community to start spotting trees for us. When you get into a sport like cycling you have to be out there for hours at a time. That is a hell of a lot of time and miles where you could be spotting trees!
Craig: We have a mobile version of our map where you can pull it up and drag a marker to add trees. It isn’t the best because it isn’t a native phone app but it works and is fairly easy. People can also just visit our website to provide us with a tree location.
What are some key issues facing Atlanta?
Craig: Transportation for sure.
Aubrey: I live in Kirkwood and go to school Downtown. There is no time of day where I have much traffic, but that is also because I live less than 6 miles from where I work. I feel that traffic problems are because people choose to live far from where they work. It is usually self inflicted.
Craig: There are bigger issues than traffic. How about public transportation?
Aubrey: People always hold NYC on a pedestal for its transportation but it takes forever to take the train there. I don’t know why people don’t use bikes more in that city. Every transfer you have to make adds up. The only reason mass transit sort of works there is because it has to. There are too many people for everyone to drive. The driving has to get so bad for people to cross over to a train or bus, we just don’t have that here.
Craig: There is the matter of accessibility. If you are poor it is difficult and time consuming to get around.
Aubrey: If you expand our train system it might become more viable, but the bus system is too consuming. It is not practical. I realize there is a big cultural thing to bikes, but I am happy to see them reemerging as a viable transportation option. Once you do it and you get in shape, and you feel comfortable on the streets, if there is ever a traffic issue it is the fastest way to get around. Especially with access to things like the BeltLine paths. We should also have more tolls. A lot of our traffic problems stem from huge commutes and these might be combated with tolls. Then there are the revenue issues for the city of Atlanta, so the tolls might help that. Traffic is a self inflicted problem that gets acerbated. the more people do it. There are a lot of externalities to it. We need to encourage people to live closer to where they need to be. To stop pollution, traffic, all of it.
What are some of your favorite organizations around town?
Aubrey: I feel like we should return some shout outs, like to Beep Beep Gallery. One of our volunteers, Steven is about to start a mushroom farm. He is still looking for a place but soon there will be a mushroom business in Atlanta.
Craig: The farm next to Ebenezer Church, Truly Living Well, that place is amazing.
Aubrey: I am really into the BeltLine and really want them to finish.
Craig: Sugar Coated Radical is also a great place. There is so much cool stuff happening in Atlanta and it kind of all fits together- like the BeltLine or Citizens for Progressive Traffic or Atlanta Local Food Initiative. Each one of those things is neat but together, it becomes awesome.
Aubrey: Atlanta is a large niche city and there are a lot of niches. If you find that one thing you are passionate about then you can find something supporting it.
Where can interested readers find you?
Aubrey: Yeah, I would say Facebook is good for keeping up with our picks.
Craig: I FEED my soul with dogs.
Aubrey: I FEED my soul with trampolines.