They say the best things in life are free, and no one takes that more to heart than Robby Astrove, Atlanta’s very own urban fruit forager. A leading member of Concrete Jungle, and all-around-edible tree, bush, and vine enthusiast, Robby knows where all the delicious spots are around Atlanta and when the fruits are ready to harvest.
On a recent Wednesday evening, I met Robby at the busy intersection of Freedom Parkway and Ponce De Leon Avenue in Atlanta as he placed huge blue tarps under a smallish tree that I had passed by at least a hundred times and never glanced at once. He explained that this common tree was a serviceberry (or Juneberry), and it’s one of the best-kept secrets in the South. They are easy to grow and maintain, and their berries are nutritious and delicious. (And you can forget about finding them in your local grocery store.)
Since the berries are small, picking them one at a time would be an onerous task. So the much more efficient—and crazy fun—way to harvest is to grab the trunk firmly and shake it, shake it, shake it! Seriously, it’s one of the best stress relievers after a long day at work— and then it rains berries! Next, gather the berries from your well-placed tarp and pour them into containers. After about 45 minutes of work on three trees, we probably had 12 pounds of superfood berries.
Concrete Jungle consists of volunteers that harvest neglected produce all over the city and donate it to area shelters. Since the group was founded in 2009, over 10,400 lbs. of fresh, healthy, local food has been harvested and donated by volunteers. While most places prefer donations of shelf-stable items like apples and pears, Robby suggests that some are interested in using foraged berries for preserves.
I donated most of mine, but kept about a pound to make a most delicious serviceberry pie. (Well, my friend actually baked it. But I de-twigged the berries, which counts for at least a slice.)
So, what’s coming up next? Blackberries and figs! I can guarantee three things if you choose to participate in a harvest: 1) you’ll eat something delicious 2) you’ll help the needy, and 3) you’ll see a new spot in Atlanta, even if you’ve seen it a hundred times before.