Robby Astrove Places All His Bets on Fruit Trees

Arabia Mountain Park Ranger Robby Astrove taps each dirt-stained fingertip on the steering wheel of his ’98 Nissan Frontier as he recalls the first 10 fruit trees he planted for Atlanta Local Food Initiative’s (ALFI) Orchard Project.

“Jujube … there was a quince … there was a pear … a pawpaw … a second pawpaw … two figs … there was a pomegranate … and then there was an Asian persimmon and a pecan.” Robby pauses in between each tree as he jogs six years of memory.

Robby, affectionately known as Ranger Robby, had just helped middle schoolers plant five fruit trees at Operation P.E.A.C.E., a year-round mentoring and after-school program for children living in the surrounding Old Fourth Ward neighborhood.
“I don’t know if the kids knew what they were getting into this morning,” Robby says, “but this whole next week they’re going to be talking about whose tree is whose, and they’re going to name them.”
Many projects in the local food movement focus on traditional vegetable gardens, but the ALFI Orchard Project goes beyond the garden bed by planting fruit trees in unusual places, such as Atlanta’s public spaces or on-site at community organizations like Operation P.E.A.C.E. 

By planting apple, pear, pecan and other trees to feed us, the ALFI Orchard Project is making a long-term investment in Atlanta's communities.
Since the program began in 2009, Robby has planted more than 450 fruit saplings, which he calls, “the gift that keeps on giving.”
“In three to five years there will be a bountiful harvest that will keep on coming for 40, 50, 60,70 years,” he says.
Robby, who is also the park ranger for DeKalb County's Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve located inside the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, considers himself more of a memory maker than a teacher. He depends on the children’s recollection of the tree plantings to make them better stewards of nature and their neighborhoods.
“Today was about making a memory in the neighborhood,” Robby says. “They may not remember the scientific name or exact science of it all, but they are going to remember planting that tree, and they are going to want to take care of it.”
Comparing it to a harvest, Robby describes the abundance of Metro Atlanta’s local food movement as an unlimited resource of expert skills, passion and tools that help to make the fruit tree plantings a success.
At Operation P.E.A.C.E., Robby is amazed that the tools he needed to complete the plantings seem to appear out of thin air, contributed by generous supporters.
“Because what we have is based on abundance, we always have something to give away,” Robby says. “Shovels and compost just magically appeared today!”
And someday the kids will be enjoying the magic of sampling the fruits of their labors.

About the Atlanta Local Food Initiative’s Orchard Project
With the community’s financial support, the ALFI Orchard Project installs edible school gardens/community orchards that will feed, teach, and inspire. Since 2010, ALFI has planted 13 orchards providing direct access to local food while improving the quality of Atlanta’s landscape. These orchards are teaching and connecting thousands of students, teachers, and citizens to the local food movement.