Concrete Jungle’s Katherine Kennedy harvests and distributes food from Atlanta’s omnipresent fruit trees
STORY: Gresham Cash
Photo: Maria Lioy
As Katherine Kennedy navigated the branches of a Chickasaw plum with a smile and delivered calm instruction to volunteers, she embodied several of Concrete Jungle’s core values: being respectful, nimble and fun. Like an effortless leader, she addressed the Reynoldstown homeowner nearest the tree by name and ensured him that the volunteers would leave ample fruit for his family to enjoy.
Concrete Jungle does much more than spend pleasant afternoons picking fruit. As Kennedy says, “We are doing the best that we can to try and protect the fruit trees in this city and make use of this amazing natural resource for people who rarely have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Kennedy and volunteers do this by annually harvesting more than 25,000 pounds, or 100,000 servings, of fruit from trees around Atlanta. Once the fruit is collected, they distribute it to shelters, soup kitchens and food pantries. Groups of pickers can be spotted from Grant Park to Piedmont Park.
Started in 2009, Concrete Jungle has grown from collecting apples and making cider to an organization that partnered with Georgia Tech to create electronic noses that “smell” when a tree is ripe and sensors that measure the bend of a branch loaded with fruit. Additionally, Concrete Jungle has a food map of Atlanta that visually promotes awareness of how much fruit is available on streetsides, in parks and in people’s yards.
Concrete Jungle slowly grew to a size that forced its founders to consider hiring an official employee. And from the rooftop farms of New York City, Kennedy fell into the Atlanta urban farming scene. She brought unique qualifications beyond her “official” college degree focused on music business and rhetoric. She was not simply a cyclist who identified food waste on the streets of Atlanta; she was experienced with farming. So she brought a knowledge to the organization that it needed to move forward.
Kennedy returned to the South to farm in a more rural setting but felt her time spent in the country was often “very sad and lonely.” So she started a small farm in Atlanta’s Vine City neighborhood and began volunteering with Concrete Jungle. In 2017, she assumed the role of executive director.
Like any charity, the need for funding is constant. But even in this respect, Kennedy’s farm-grown values are at the root of her work. “Our corporate sponsors get involved; they get their hands dirty; they come pick; they can be a part of the soup kitchens and food pantries,” she says. “But there is meaning to the relationship more than just giving money.” Concrete Jungle and Kennedy hope to be good stewards of what the city offers. In addition to picking fruit and delivering it to partner agencies, they oversee an educational program with taste tests and recipe demos, and are working on a cookbook. “We are trying to improve produce literacy,” she says. “And we are gonna continuing growing on that.”