When I lived in either tropical or Mediterranean environments it was never surprising (but always exciting) to see trees and bushes laden with fruit in their season; mangoes, citrus, and papaya in Costa Rica, or figs, pomegranates and lemons on a Croatian island. But when we temporarily relocated to Atlanta I was happy to discover similar levels of abundance in both urban and suburban environments. In some cases there were trees that looked like they had outlived what some in the neighborhood are wont to call “the war of northern aggression”, such as the pear trees owned by the Dunwoody Preservation Trust, while in others it was a fresh commitment to collective action like the Dunwoody Community Garden where food pantry harvesters pick, wash and bag lbs of produce from donation plots to distribute to a local food bank. (Current estimates for these initiatives are over 1,500 lbs of produce plus 567 lbs of pears to be exact!)
In a time of disparity between the amounts of fresh food produced in the world and the number of people who go without it, I am happy to participate in and proselytize about programs that help alleviate this imbalance. In the United States Community gardens are springing up around the country on both public and private land, in likely places such as empty lots, school yards and church yards, as well as surprise locations like urban rooftops. And while those gardens are used by individuals to allow food security for their families, a large portion of them also plant with surplus in mind in order to donate to local food banks. The donation plots are not always located within the garden themselves, but also directly alongside the property with the food pantries, allowing the children of the receiving families to participate in the harvest. A tasty example of “food for thought”!
The concept of gleaning extends past the idea of literally collecting the remainders of a harvest. Farmer’s Markets and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) are often adding a donation area where, along with the day’s leftover produce, clients can contribute a portion of their weekly haul to food banks and shelters. In Atlanta organizations like Concrete Jungle scour neighborhoods in search of laden fruit and nut trees on vacant and public land. Volunteers harvest the trees for donation to organizations and ministries that feed the hungry. According to their website they have currently harvested and donated 4392 lbs of fruit! They also have planted fruit and nut trees on vacant commercial property.
From ancient times the concept of gleaning was directly linked with the concept of donation, of those that have sharing with those that have not, even if the receiver is required to work for their gifts. It’s a beautiful thought that the bounty of nature can’t be completely domesticated via property lines and deeds.
(Photos courtesy of Pattie Baker at the Dunwoody Community Garden at Brookrun)