Saving Muscadines with Concrete Jungle

28 Sep 2021, by Admin in Concrete Jungle

Melanie Jones serves as the AmeriCorps VISTA with Concrete Jungle in Atlanta, Georgia. As the Communications Coordinator, Melanie manages the social media channels for Concrete Jungle as well as the website and newsletter. She’s also helping to increase Concrete Jungle’s connections to small-scale distribution sites by managing donations of fruit tree harvests and garden donations. Lastly, she’s helping coordinate the Produce Buyers Club program, which connects Georgia farmers with outreach programs around Atlanta.

The Athens, Georgia branch of Concrete Jungle received an urgent call from a muscadine grower in Sparta, Georgia one Friday afternoon: he had way too many muscadines that would all go to waste if Concrete Jungle didn’t get out there right away to harvest. The Athens staff drove the hour and a half to scout the location and confirmed these muscadines needed to get picked as soon as possible.

What resulted was a week full of outreach to all Athens and Atlanta volunteers, plus outreach to the cities surrounding the vineyard—including local college students and churches. There were so many details to hammer out, and the staff spent several hours via Zoom making decisions such as:
     – How many volunteers were needed? Would they drive 1.5 hours to be there on a Saturday morning?
     – Could Concrete Jungle find a local organization who could use these muscadines? It felt important for the grapes to not travel all the way back to Atlanta or Athens when there were surely many communities along the way who could use them.
     – How should the muscadines be packed and transported? Concrete Jungle did not want to use all its own crates and leave them with the organization.

Top: Ison Muscadines. Here: Concrete Jungle staff members Colton and Jenny make their picking plan.

On gleaning day, 30 volunteers arrived at Courson’s Vineyard, which was a great turnout for only a week’s planning. Concrete Jungle staff members decided they would focus on a muscadine variety called Ison, a beautiful dark purple to black grape that grows abundantly in the 12-acre vineyard. There was a short orientation before volunteers could begin. Muscadines are a little more work to pick than your normal California table grape–they must be picked individually rather than by the bunch, and once they are picked, they do not continue to ripen. Therefore, it was important for volunteers to not pick under- OR overripe fruit.

The day was partly sunny and surprisingly pleasant for a September day in Georgia. Over the next three hours, volunteers gleaned over 1600 lbs. of muscadines. These were loaded into boxes on a 15-passenger van bound for Putnam Christian Outreach just a short drive away.

The day was deemed a great success, and the vineyard owner enjoyed having the volunteers and contributing to such a great cause so much that he invited them back for a second round in October!

Vineyard owner Beau Courson (far right) with Concrete Jungle volunteers and staff members.

Concrete Jungle staff have set a larger goal for the next glean—2,000 lbs.!