Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fruitful Conversation

I once read that students in a major city could easily identify commercial brands when the brand name was removed from the product, but they couldn't identify the flowers that grew in their neighborhoods and around their school. I would have flunked the test, too.

Enter community organizer and graduate student, JP Goguen, and the Champaign-Urbana Fruit Map. Using Google maps, he and some friends have created a public, interactive map that aggregates edible fruit trees on the campus of the University of Illinois, and on public and private land in the twin cities.

"The idea is to get information about what is available to grow and what is growing in terms of edible fruit trees and nut trees and berries," JP says, "and get that information out there for people to inspire them to plant trees themselves, to inspire them to eat food straight off the tree and to talk to their neighbors and talk to their kids about the infrastructure that grows around us and the ways we can use it."

The public can also add fruit trees to the existing map -- a smaller version is shown below.

View Champaign-Urbana Fruit Map in a larger map

When we met today for coffee, he showed me some links he has compiled of resources that help people who want to grow their own fruit tress, such as the U of I Extension's Small Fruit Crops for the Backyard. For those who want to organize community projects, there's City Fruit , an organization in Seattle that, according to its website, "works neighborhood by neighborhood to help residential tree owners grow healthy fruit, to harvest and use what they can, and to share what they don’t need. City Fruit collaborates with others involved in local food production, climate protection, horticulture, food security and community-building to protect and optimize urban fruit trees."

Response to the fruit tree project is growing. People JP has never heard of are starting to add fruit trees to the map. And he'd like to have planting ceremonies for those who want fruit trees. As we talked about my yard, he identified paw-paw trees and blueberries as a good match for the acid soil in my yard.

The project isn't without controversy, JP told me. Some people don't want others to know where the public fruit trees are so the fruit doesn't get eaten up. Others don't like the messy fruit that drops on sidewalks and stains them. Still others are concerned about adding private homes to a public map.

JP says he has talked to some of the people in private homes whose fruit trees have been mapped, but not all of them. He reports that fruit trees on private homes are generally located in the right-of-way or a few feet from the sidewalk on the person's lawn.

I am inspired by our fruitful conversation. If you'd like to connect with JP, his email address is:

Kimberlie Kranich is director of community engagement at Illinois Public Media and may be reached at

1 comment:

  1. Be careful. As an owner of fruit trees, so much is stolen that there is none for us. We don't need maps bringing more robbers to our home.