First of all, let’s really sum up the year: in 2012 we picked more fruit than we ever have from more trees than we ever have. We donated more types of produce than any other year and donated to more places than any other year.
Dog Head Farms
The biggest organizational change that we made in 2012 is the creation of our 1 acre organic farm, Dog Head Farms, in Sylvan Hills. It started as a kudzu-covered field, and is now a kudzu-covered field that also produces food (400 lbs in 2012). It was a very different direction for Concrete Jungle — fruit foraging is a logistics-intensive, transient activity that is (so far) hard to organize on a large scale or for many groups. Farms stay put, and always got stuff to be done.
Dog Head’s Precarious Occupation
For those of you not fully in the know, Dog Head Farms is situated on land to which we only partially have legitimate access. The farm consists of 4 lots, and 3 of them have been long abandoned. The remaining lot belongs to a benefactor of Concrete Jungle. While we worry about losing part of our farm to these absent property owners at some point in the future, we have several factors that we hope (fingers crossed) will make that unlikely:
- The city likely has a tax lien on the properties.
- At least one of the lots is owned by a dissolved corporation.
- The outstanding tax bill for many of the lots is larger than the assessed value of the land. Were the land to go to tax auction, the opening bid is usually the outstanding tax bill, which is unlikely to be met.
- The area as a whole is not amenable to development: the creek running through the farm has a 50 foot (I believe) negative easement preventing development, and the sewer access in the middle of the property also has a 30 foot radius (I believe) negative easement preventing development.
And so the land has sat for many years, in kudzu-covered limbo. We’re trying our best to rehabilitate it. If any one reading this happens to know some way to resolve this situation in our favor, we’d love to hear it.
Abandoned Land in Atlanta
What the Dog Head Farms land situation brought to light is that there is likely a very large amount of similar abandoned lots in Atlanta, and it is even more likely that these properties are in low-income parts of the city.
This allows us to expand on what Concrete Jungle does. Up till now, we have been picking fruit that is going to waste all over Atlanta, and delivering to the hungry and homeless and low-income parts of the city. Maybe we should start planting public orchards on abandoned land, and simply grow that fruit right where it’s needed.
Are we giving up on fruit picking? Absolutely not. Fruit picking is our bread and butter. We donated more fruit last year than ever before, and we’re looking forward to getting even more. Fruit picking is also weird and fun and unpredictable, and is a great outlet for creative problem solving (I swear 2013 will be the year of the fruit-tree-spotting drone).
Why public orchards and not farms? Well, we’ve learned from running Dog Head that farms are a lot of work. It’s fine and fun to have Dog Head, but expanding it many times over throughout the city seems unfeasible, especially given the all-too-common sight of overgrown and untended beds at community gardens around the city.
Orchards will deliver far more food for far less input than a farm, and they will hopefully contribute to improving the surrounding neighborhood by turning an eyesore of an abandoned lot in to an amenity.
Don’t orchards take a long time to grow? Yes, yes they do. But so does everything. We believe that Atlanta has shown itself as a city whose citizens can be excited about long-term projects. We hope only to add to this excitement, and to feed the general sentiment that so many Atlantans have: that things are getting better around here, and that there’s a lot of cool stuff on the horizon.
Our First Orchard Project and The World’s Smallest Fundraising Campaign
With that, we hope to launch our first public orchard project with the partnership of HELP, in the English Avenue neighborhood just west of the Georgia Dome and just blocks away from Martin Luther King Jr’s house. HELP is leading a Hands-On Atlanta volunteer day to clean up two lots on Elm St. this coming Monday. In February, we will purchase fruit trees from the ALFI Fruit Tree Sale, and they will go in to the ground shortly thereafter.
Our goal for this orchard is to raise $200. That’s it. Compared to those NPR pledge drives, this is a walk in the park. $20 gets us a tree, and $200 will allow us to purchase enough trees that some type of fruit should be ripe or ripening throughout the entire growing season, resulting in many hundreds of pounds of fresh food over the life of the tree. Please consider donating to us. Your money is going directly towards feeding people and improving Atlanta.