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Drive-By Fruitings

Posted Oct 31 2013 2:49pm
Robby next to a public serviceberry tree he planted
So when Robby Astrove, the Johnny Appleseed of Atlanta, offers to give you a guided bike tour of public edibles right in the city, you say yes. 

harvesting jujubes
And so, off we rode, from street to street, library to senior home to school to park to abandoned lot to local businesses to the wood-chipped empty space now used by the weekly farmers market. Everywhere we went, Robby pointed out fruit trees, fruit trees, and more fruit trees. Pear. Plum. Apple. Fig. Persimmon. Paw paw. Loquat. Serviceberry. And even my very first jujube! And Robby has planted them all. 
Future Edible Bus Stop?

He calls them "drive-by fruitings" because he just sees a spot and stops and plants. He's been doing this for years, and now many of the trees are bearing fruit. What were once guerilla plantings are now fully welcomed and "approved." The Friends of the Library, for instance, are friends with the fruiting trees in a little greenspace right outside the building. The block on which he lives is so filled with public fruit trees that frankly it may be the best example of consecutive edible street trees in the United States. In all honesty, the neighborhood in which he lives, East Atlanta, may be one of the best neighborhood-wide orchards in the country as well. What's more, I predict that Robby will create the first Edible Bus Stop in the United States. He already has a spot in mind (pictured above).

Robby is an arborist and environmental educator with DeKalb County Natural Resource Management Office--he is the park ranger at Arabia Mountain. He serves on the advisory board for the Atlanta Local Food Initiative and East Atlanta Farmers Market, and instructs workshops regarding edible landscape design, fruit trees and orchards. He worked previously at Trees Atlanta and is a board member of Concrete Jungle, the volunteer organization that harvests unwanted fruit from all over metro-Atlanta and donates it to food pantries.  That's how I met him, actually.  

I had contacted Concrete Jungle to help us when we first harvested the pear tree in my city whose fruit went to waste every single year before that. We harvested about 600 pounds of fruit in less than a hour that year and the next, and this current year, a group named Dad's Bucket List took it over and considered their outing (which included the children in the group delivering the fruit to the local food pantry recipients themselves) their favorite of the year. 

Robby thinks planting fruit trees just makes sense, and cents.  Well, actually dollars, as in dollars of benefits in both positive economic and environmental impacts as well as health enhancements. Fruit is expensive to buy, yet one tree can produce tons of fruit over many years for what amounts to about a $20 investment. Plus, fruit trees provide energy-efficient cooling, they reduce stormwater runoff and erosion, they help clean the air, they provide critical nutrients and help combat obesity, and they are beautiful. By planting the right fruit tree in the right place (this is important, and is why hiring an expert like Robby is a good idea), you reap these benefits while reducing concerns regarding pests, mess, or waste.

a previously-empty lot now provides free fruit to neighbors
Immediately after I left Robby, he was giving a tour to the new Parks Director of the City of Atlanta. Considering City of Atlanta's Mayor Kasim Reed's ambitious goal of bringing local food within 10 minutes of 75 percent of all Atlanta residents by 2020, that may mean Robby will be doing drive-by fruitings for quite some time now. Want him to "retro-fruit" your metro-Atlanta city, school, community center, place of worship, park, or business? You can reach him here . Want your city elsewhere around the United States or world to bear more fruit as well? Check out what local fruit initaitives may already be in place, or consider becoming the Robby Appleseed where you live. And start carrying pruning sheers in your pocket, like Robby does.

But this all does beg the question: why are there no plans for publicly-accessible edibles on the Atlanta BeltLine , with the exception of the robust remains of scrappy little BeltLine Minty ? That still perplexes me.  

eclectic food-for-thought for a changing world
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