CommUniverCity, a collaborative project of San Jose State University (SJSU), San Jose, Calif., and two neighborhood communities, is aiming to channel excess food to people in need. Its Garden to Table initiative identifies and maps fruit trees on residential properties, works with area homeowners, and mobilizes volunteers to pick excess fruit and deliver it to a local food bank.

Trimble, a provider of Global Positioning System products (GPS), developed a three-part solution for the fruit surplus. The system includes a mobile geographic information system (GIS) data collector, a back-office application for geospatial data analysis and a tree-canopy monitoring segment for long-term planning. The solution helps local organizations manage productive urban forestry and agriculture programs. It also enhances the community’s ability to provide fresh food to families in need. The system was installed October 2015.

“We started mapping the fruit trees with pen and paper, walking the streets and collecting data—address, tree type, productivity and size,” recalls Zach Lewis, Garden to Table project coordinator. “We were using a simple, hand-held GPS unit and handwriting each tree’s location coordinates. Then I would geocode the data for SJSU’s GIS, which was incredibly time- and labor-intensive.” In the first year, Lewis and other volunteers mapped 930 trees on private properties within a 1-mile radius. Field and keyboard time totaled more than 300 hours—an average of only about 3 trees per hour.

Running on handheld Trimble Juno SB GPS data collectors, a simple menu system helps field workers record and inventory trees that could be harvested. The system keeps track of key attributes, such as species, size, productivity, condition and health. With the mobile solution, the team mapped 1,400 trees in roughly 160 hours—nearly 9 trees/hour.

Garden to Table will use the fruit tree canopy map as it moves into the project’s next phase: increasing the overall number of fruit trees. Lewis and the SJSU team plan to work with city officials and private landowners to encourage tree planting where most beneficial.

The current program has reduced the time needed to map, catalog and organize central San Jose’s fruit trees. This will translate directly into more picking time and a projected 100-percent increase of fruit in the first year to roughly 25,000 pounds.

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