A graduate class I took a few semesters ago as part of my study in urban and regional planning at UTSA focused on health, the built environment, and equal access for everyone to fresh, organic, locally produced foods – important issues that are tied to many aspects of our community.
We specifically studied the history and development of an inner city neighborhood close to campus, Avenida Guadalupe. As we dissected this neighborhood, and how the built environment impacts so many aspects of health, we also found that this neighborhood is food desert – with limited access to fresh produce. The question was posed to us: How can a community change this on its own?
We were led through discussions about local food production to help with the critical and growing need for equity with regards to healthy foods. This was a window for me, as I began to look at our urban neighborhoods much differently after this course.
Later that summer while driving through and studying the landscape of neighborhoods in the center city, one commonality became apparent: mature, very established fruit trees adorned the yards.
We realized that there is currently a large production of fresh fruit taking place via neighborhood fruit trees. In each of the neighborhoods canvassed – Lavaca, King William, Avenida Guadalupe, Lone Star and Roosevelt Park – I saw an urban orchard begin to form. These neighborhoods are home to mature orange, lime, grapefruit, fig, and pomegranate trees, to name a few. In this small area, we have cataloged more than 50 trees.
I was already aware of fruit trees in our city, I have a very productive grapefruit tree myself. However, I had no grasp of the sheer number of trees in the neighborhoods combined. The majority of the mapped trees are located in neighborhoods that have a history rooted in agriculture, especially Avenida Guadalupe. According to the Guadalupe Westside Community Plan for 2020, the property was, for the most part, used for pasture and farmland until the late 1800s.
These trees are significant to our city because they show us that fruit trees can prosper in our urban areas and that we can connect to one another through food sharing. These fruit trees are likely to produce more fruit than can be consumed by the tree owner and its household. One mature tree at 10 years old can produce up to 200-250 pounds of fruit. Many of the trees are not gleaned, as picking the fruit can be tricky, especially fruit at the top of a very tall tree.
The fruit from these trees can help shrink the critical and growing need for access to healthy food for all. Since there are many food pantries in San Antonio such as the San Antonio Food Bank that could benefit from this locally grown, organic, fresh food, why not create a fruit tree harvesting program?
The San Antonio Fruit Tree Project was formed from the community, for the community. Other cities with similar projects became a model for us. In San Francisco, justonetree.org fascinated us with their dedication of reducing the imports of lemons to San Francisco. Portland also proves urban harvesting can be successful and they have great fruit harvesting ideas, with the Portland Fruit Tree Project. There are many cities taking local food production to new levels, and San Antonio has the capability of doing the same. We have an urban orchard of our own.
The San Antonio Fruit Tree Project revolves around one fundamental value: don’t waste good fruit. We aim to donate fruit to programs that help those in need.
These trees are hidden gems in our community. They have survived decades of change, and are a part of our history. They have the ability to bind us together, help each other, and remind us that we all have something to give.
*Featured/top image: San Antonio Fruit Tree Project founders Mary Minor and Melissa Federspill harvest figs from a neighborhood tree. Courtesy photo.