It’s mulberry season in Baltimore, and soon the fruits will be seen falling off of trees all over the city.
That’s right, trees. While the nursery rhyme may speak of a mulberry bush, the tiny, raspberry-like fruit grows on trees, not bushes.
To celebrate mulberry season, the Baltimore Orchard Project is celebrating its second annual Mulberry Madness, which is extending into July this year.
According to Dean Freeman, the harvest coordinator for the Baltimore Orchard Project, mulberry trees grow all around the city, in public land. If a fruit tree grows on public land in Baltimore, anyone is allowed to harvest it.
“If it's on public land, that means a park, or if it overhangs public land, which could be a street tree, or even a tree in someone's yard, you're legally allowed to harvest that tree,” Freeman said.
And, in Baltimore, the mulberry trees—identifiable by their distinct leaf shape and yellowish bark—are everywhere.
“If you know a field or a roadside with a lot of trees, you probably have a mulberry growing there,” Freeman said. “It might not produce a lot of fruit, but it'll be there.”
Organizers with the Orchard Project, a program of Civic Works, are trying to bring attention to mulberries in Baltimore to help Baltimoreans expand their dietary choices, eat more locally, reduce food waste and start to imagine a “food system that is good for people, planet and prosperity.”
Gwen Kokes, the stewardship coordinator for the Baltimore Orchard Project, said that while mulberries can’t feed a person alone, they’re a great start to get people thinking locally.
“It’s a great snack, and it’s healthy, it’s really good for you and it’s a great way to connect people to nature,” she said. “I love the idea of connecting nature in an urban environment.”
The best way to tell if a mulberry is ripe, Freeman said, is to shake the tree and see if any of the fruits fall off. Ripe red mulberries will start to get a dark, inky color, he said.
In addition to leading community harvests, the Orchard Project helps maintain orchards and fruit trees throughout the city. The organization has a map of registered fruit trees on their website.
“The Baltimore Orchard Project plants and stewards orchards in the city,” Kokes said. “And we teach neighbors to be long-term stewards and we share the harvest among neighbors.”
Freeman said that, while the Orchard Project doesn’t have an operation big enough to get everyone in the city a free apple or a plum, he hopes to spread the word and get people to “open their minds to growing more edible things.”
“And that doesn’t just include the citizens of Baltimore City,” he said. “That includes the city itself. We want people to realize that fruit trees increase the canopy of the city and also can bring people together by sharing food.”
The group has a harvest planned for July 1. Other events are announced on the Orchard Project’s Facebook page.