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 Technology&more

C

alifornia’s Silicon Valley was once known as the “Valley of 
the Heart’s Delight” for its acres upon acres of bountiful 
orchards. The big orchards have virtually disappeared, 

but fruit trees thrive in the sunny climate and residents often 
have a bigger harvest than they can consume.

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

According to Dr. Hilary Nixon, Associate Professor in SJSU’s 
Department of Urban and Regional Planning, bringing food 
production back into cities and suburbs has significant envi-
ronmental, economic and social benefits, including healthier 
communities. 

A Slow Process
“In 2011, we started mapping the fruit trees with pen and pa-
per, walking the streets and collecting data—address, tree type, 
productivity and size,” recalls Zach Lewis,  Project Coordinator for 
Garden to Table and a SJSU Urban Planning graduate student. 
“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. Although the mapping and GIS analysis helped 
improve the efficiency of the harvests, Lewis and Nixon saw 
potential in further automating the process. 

A Better Way
With close ties to SJSU, Trimble developed a three-part solution 
including a mobile 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 to manage productive urban forestry and 
agriculture programs and enhances the community’s ability 
to provide fresh food to families in need.

Cengea—a Trimble company in Vancouver, Canada--provided 
Cengea Forest, a forestry data management and visualization 
package that needed only minor customization to provide 
both mobile field and back-office analysis functionality for 
Garden to Table. Running on handheld Trimble Juno® SB 
GPS data collectors, a simple menu system helps field crews 
record and inventory trees that could be harvested, accurately 
noting GPS location and key attributes such as species, size, 
productivity, condition and health. Each of San Jose’s nearly 
two dozen fruit-tree species is named in the pull-down menu. 
The attribute menus are mostly point-and-click, so training the 
volunteers to use the mobile data collectors takes only minutes. 
Collected data is uploaded via Wi-Fi into the application back-
office component.

Urban Agriculture

Battling Food Insecurity with Integrated Geospatial Technologies

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