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1 Pear Tree. 1 Hour. 567 Pounds for Those in Need. Have a Nice Day. UPDATED

Posted Jul 10 2011 6:56am
The response was immediate.  City Councilor John Heneghan asked the police for help with traffic.  Chief Grogan replied, "Just tell me when and where and we'll be there."  Don-of-the-rain-garden got permission from the head of the Dunwoody Preservation Trust, which owns the pear tree that was hanging heavy with ripe fruit , and said he'd bring his ladder and tarps.  Ann said she'd get the five red buckets back from the church where we deliver produce from the community garden for the 100-or-so families in need on Wednesdays.  Van would bring his fruit picker tool.  A dozen or so people said they would come, including Shawn-who-fell-from the-sky (who is now co-leader of Team Food Pantry as I am stepping down, and the garden she started is now self-sustaining), who was tapping in from vacation to stay on top of updates.

I contacted Craig Durkin of an Atlanta-based fruit gleaning volunteer organization named Concrete Jungle to find out more about his group, and to get specific advice for Operation Pear Tree.  Inspired predominantly by a group named Not Far from a Tree in Ontario, Canada, Craig and a friend named Aubrey Daniels developed Concrete Jungle as a fruit-and-nut-tree food recovery program when they started noticing how much fruit was left to rot all over Atlanta.  The group has been operating officially since 2009, and they currently have over 800 trees in their database.  They kick off each fruit harvest year with service berries and work their way through  blackberries, blueberries, peaches, plums, figs, pears, apples, muscadines, native persimmons (it would take a lot for me to eat another one of those after this ), pawpaws, pomegranates, and even a citrus fruit named flying dragon.  To date, they have donated over 3,000 pounds of recovered fruit to local food pantries.  
As opposed to Not Far from the Tree, which gives a portion of the gleaned fruit to the homeowner where residential trees are harvested, Craig has found that Atlanta homeowners who give permission for their trees to be gleaned do not seem to want any of the fruit for themselves.  Therefore, just about all of it goes to those in need.  Craig and the rest of the folks from Concrete Jungle harvest every single Sunday morning from about June through October (this morning, they are harvesting peaches from under the power lines in residential backyards near Emory University).  This is in stark contrast to where you will find Craig during the week--he is an industrial engineer who works for a nanotechnology company doing experiments and writing reports in a windowless office.  Talk about yin and yang!
I was all set to see if I could arrange for a cherry picker truck to help us harvest when Craig gave this seasoned advice, "We find it works best if one person climbs the tree and shakes it, and four people hold a tarp and catch the fruit."  Well, that certainly simplified things! 
Craig and several other members of Concrete Jungle came to help us Saturday morning. (Pictured to the left is Robby Astrove of Concrete Jungle--guess where Robby works?  With my friend Rashid !)  (By the way, the link is up for my Urban Farm magazine article that features Rashid , and other urban farmers nationwide).  City Councilor Robert Wittenstein, who had arrived on bicycle (as usual), was first up the tree.  Octogenarian Rod Pittman ( remember this post about Rod? ) was right behind him, and spent most of the next hour perched precariously close to the top branches.  Craig relieved Robert after awhile, and every time I looked at him up there in his element, I noticed a wide smile across his face.  The people holding the tarp were laughing, yelling, and ducking their heads while gripping tightly as literally hundreds of pears cascaded down on them (we estimate we harvested about 1,000).  The only youth on the city's Sustainability Commission, Danny Kanso, was there as well (he is working on a city-wide school garden initiative-- here he is featured on my friend Bob's blog , meeting my friend, Rashid).  Pictured to the right is Sally Malone, co-leader of Team Food Pantry (and Van's wife).  And look closely and you'll see Craig smiling in the tree in the photo below!

Here's a short video that captures the essence of the experience for you:

We filled the five buckets, and a handful of large bags as well.  We weighed them on my ridiculous talking scale.  "You weigh 88 pounds," it said as the first red bucket weighed in, followed by "Have a nice day."  "You weigh 96 pounds.  Have a nice day."  "You weigh 94 pounds.  Have a nice day."  And so on.  Pictured is City Councilor Robert Wittenstein holding the bags on the scale as Angela , the community garden treasurer, recorded the numbers, subtracting Robert's weight, of course!    Rebecca Barria, the young mom who fell out of the sky two years ago right about now to be the chair of the first community garden in what was then the newest city in the United States (Semmes, Alabama, which started operating two months ago, now holds the title that Dunwoody held for two and half years), said to me, "What was the thought process that had you decide this scale was the one to buy?" 
"It had me at have a nice day," I told her.
The bottom line?  One pear tree.  One hour.  A dozen people.  567 pounds for those in need.  This public fruit gleaning will serve as a case study for my community (and yours) as to what is possible.  Already people are whispering in our ears, like Slugworth in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, to tell us where there are fruit trees for picking.  Yet, we don't have a fruit gleaning leader, and unless one emerges, the fruit on those trees will simply, once again, rot.  Will a leader fall from the sky, the way Rebecca did?  The way Susan Harper did?  The way Shawn Bard did?  (I built this site several years ago to help get someone going on creating a more "fruitful Dunwoody" or wherever it is you live.) If recent history in my city is any indicator, I'd say duck under a tarp when you're walking outside for the next few weeks!
As Laura Freeman Hines , the new head of Team Compost at the Dunwoody Community Garden, gathered up the rotten pears to add to the new bins she and her husband, Jim, built, so that they could become black gold and eventually help grow yet more food for those in need, I thought of how our work is never really done.  And now our job is once again to grow not only food, but new leaders.  (I am done now with serving as a leader locally as my book is coming out very soon and I am called elsewhere.  This was my final hurrah.)  

And, of course, as always, let's try to help more people have a nice day.

Also, Tom Oder of Dunwoody Patch just published a very cute article about the gleaning event, which you can read here . Here are two great photos he took that morning.

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