In the shadow of the Tennessee Titans stadium, a dozen volunteers compete with the mockingbirds as they harvest ripe serviceberries – a sweet and tart berry that can be eaten raw, baked in a pie or used just about any way a blueberry is.
They’re growing on 10-foot tall ornamental shrubs, planted in the parking lot of LP Field years ago. The stadium manager didn’t realize he had edible plants on the premises until someone with the Society of St. Andrew pointed it out to him.
“You pick the ones that are purple and red,” says 8-year-old Cohen Spry as he puts a few berries in his mouth. He joined his grandparents on this gleaning crew.
In recent years, conservationists and anti-hunger organizations have revived the Biblical practice of gleaning fruits and vegetables that farmers leave in their fields. The Society of St. Andrew is one of the largest groups, harvesting nearly 24 million pounds of produce last year.
Tennessee director Lynette Johnson noticed the serviceberries when she was at the Mayor’s Field Day at LP Field.
“I saw these trees filled with fruit and said we should be doing something about those,” Johnson says.
The hundred pounds of serviceberries are headed to a food shelf called “The Little Pantry That Could” on Charlotte Ave. They’ll be distributed to needy families who shop at the pantry on Saturdays.
Johnson says her gleaning crews are used to picking peppers and squash by the truckload.
“Pound-wise this isn’t that much,” she says. “But it’s really unusual to have an opportunity – first of all – to get native fruit and second, to be able to do it right in town.”
Urban gleaning has been gaining steam in some parts of the country, particularly in California where fruit trees are plentiful. San Francisco’s public works department even has a program to harvest food for shelters and food banks.
Johnson says she hopes more people will look out for food that might be right in front of them and could be put to good use. She says the Nashville’s greenways are full of ready-to-eat fruit this time of year, like blackberries.