When Anthony Nathe plucks mulberries to snack on in Baltimore, he often meets with confusion and surprise.
“When I run, I would stop and eat mulberries and people would look at me strangely, wondering what the heck I’m doing,” said Nathe, who is a harvest captain for the Mulberry Madness Festival, put on by Civic Works’ Baltimore Orchard Project (BOP). “We’re just slowly but surely trying to educate people that there’s active fruit in the community and it’s good and it can be eaten.”
This year marks the festival’s third iteration. Throughout June, the BOP hosts mulberry harvests in areas such as Druid Hill, Patterson Park and Wyman Park, as well as other events designed to promote awareness and knowledge of mulberries. The BOP also partners with Harmony Bakery, Bird in Hand, Artifact Coffee, Blacksauce Kitchen, Michele’s Granola, Cafe Jovial and Atwater’s, to serve mulberry dishes using the festival’s harvest.
Mulberry trees can be found throughout the city, and their berries often litter the sidewalks and cars beneath them. According to Deborah Howard, chair of the BOP board, they are a superfruit and one she likes to eat plain, on salads and in a variety of other dishes because of their versatility. Mulberries contain a high concentration of antioxidants, vitamins C and K, and fiber, among other nutrients.
Eric Sargent, BOP’s planting coordinator, explained that part of the initial inspiration behind Mulberry Madness was the pervasiveness of mulberry trees, their accessibility to residents of Baltimore and the ease with which they are identified.
“It’s exciting that there are trees that are native to this region and that have self-propagated themselves,” Sargent said.
He added that red mulberries are native to the mid-Atlantic region, while white mulberries are not native and were originally planted to bolster the silk industry. Though silk production didn’t stick around, the mulberries did.
Sargent said one goal of the Mulberry Madness initiative is to reduce food waste, since mulberries often fall untouched to the ground, but now are considered “valuable and nutritious.” A larger objective, he said, is to make the festival a springboard for asking, “what other kind of fruit trees can I grow?”
Throughout the year, the BOP consults with schools, churches and other organizations in Baltimore to plant different trees and help develop community gardens. Nathe explained that they plant blueberries, fig trees, pear trees and more, and that every year the BOP also has a fruit tree giveaway where people can receive free trees.
“Baltimore Orchard Project is a little-known but valuable resource for the city,” Nathe said.
Upcoming Mulberry Madness events include the Waverly Farmers Market on Saturday, June 24, from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m., where samples of mulberry jam biscuits, mulberry granola, mulberry granola will be available. On Sunday, June 25, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Cafe Jovial will host a mulberry brunch.
The BOP will also host a potluck on Tuesday, June 27, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., with members cooking various dishes using mulberries. Guests are encouraged to bring their own food as well.