Putting the SURF Garden “On The Map”

For those in the know, The Sustainable University of Redlands Farm, or SURF Garden, is a gem on the U of R campus. It is, however, a hidden gem. If you’re not a current student of the University of Redlands, you’ve probably never even heard of the SURF Garden. That may be because it can’t be found on any maps! It’s a big empty rectangle on Google Maps and ArcGIS Online and it’s not even on the official campus map! During the Fall semester of 2015, the Intro to Spatial Analysis and GIS class worked to change that.

The Fall 2015 Introduction to Spatial Analysis and GIS students were given a final group project to map the SURF garden using the skills and methods learned throughout the class. Their assignment was to create a promotional presentation using these maps and other media together in an Esri Story Map. The goal was to (1) put the SURF Garden “on the map”, (2) provide a basemap for future garden projects, and 3) provide a promotional product to be used for the upcoming anniversary of the successful Community Service Learning program at the University.

The assignment was designed as a service learning project, in which students learn through active participation and engagement on a project to benefit the community. Supervised by the instructors, David Smith and Nate Strout from the Center for Spatial Studies, the project was largely student-driven; students collaborated in groups to create the final products.

Project Kickoff

First meeting with Tim Rogers at the farm

The class kicked off the project by walking over to visit the farm and meet with Tim Rogers, who manages the farm. Some students were intimately familiar with the farm, having worked there for several years. For many students, this was the first time they had stepped foot in the farm. Tim presented and answered several questions about the history, goals, and challenges of the farm as well as discussed its general spatial layout and the types of data he and the other farmers and workers collect. After this first meeting with Tim, the class came back and brainstormed the products for the project and organized into groups.

UAV Imagery

SURF UAV Collage

Students learn about mapping with UAV’s

It was also at this first visit to the farm that the class met with CSS Director Dr. Steven Moore to learn about high-resolution remote sensing using UAV’s (aka “drones”). Dr Moore kindly brought over a UAV quadcopter to demonstrate to the students and agreed to do an aerial survey of the farm to create a high-resolution seamless aerial image (aka orthophoto). This image would then be used by the students to map out the features of the garden. Aerial imagery is often used in GIS to “digitize” features to be used for mapping and analysis. However, recent imagery for the garden is not available or is not detailed enough for the level of precision mapping necessary for a mapping project at this scale. After flying the farm and processing the data, the resolution of the final product was less than 1 inch (meaning that each pixel represents an inch on the ground)! This incredibly detailed product means that the students could distinguish even small features such as plants, rocks, and even irrigation equipment to be digitized as features into a “geodatabase”.

Along with the final orthophoto, Dr. Moore also took some great video with the UAV. See the video below for a compilation of some of this video.

Students mapped irrigation features using GPS

Data Collection
Even with a high-resolution image that can be used for digitizing, the students had to collect data in the form of photos, GPS points, and detailed “attribute” information such as the species, height, and width of plants at the farm. The Collector Team decided what types of features they wanted to collect in the field and what types of attributes were needed. Then, they used a mobile app from Esri called Collector for ArcGIS for field data collection. Collector allows you to use custom maps created in ArcGIS Online and the camera and GPS in a smartphone to capture geographic data quickly and easily. This data is then stored in the cloud to be viewed, edited, or analyzed in real-time.

In addition to collecting GPS data, students also took some interactive photo “spheres” to be used with Google Street View using the Street View app available for iOS and Android. Click here to see an example.

Creating the Basemap
The basemap became one of core products of this project. It would serve as both a cartographic representation of the spatial layout of the farm but also as a base for future work done at the garden. The students in the Basemap Team determined the primary “fixed” features of the farm including fields, rows, community plotsand Zuni waffle cells. The team used the high-resolution UAV imagery to digitize these features and devised a standard naming conventions for identifying and labeling them. Data management, editing and cartographic work was done primarily in ArcGIS Pro. The resulting map was not only beautiful, but its features can now be related to other data such as the successes and failures of crops, the yields of various crop types, the names of farmers who maintained them, water usage, and so on. Use the map below or use the team’s viewer application to explore their work!

See the team’s Basemap Viewer app

Surf Story Map Screenshot

SURF Garden Story Map

Story Map
One of the themes of the Intro to Spatial Analysis and GIS class is the importance of the presentation of maps and geographic data to communicate and promote ideas, inform decision-making, and effectively tell stories. Effective communication is often the ultimate goal of mapping and GIS and this project was no exception. With the upcoming anniversary of Community Service Learning at the U of R, a product that can be used to help promote and inform people about the SURF Garden and it’s role at the university would be an valuable outcome of the project. Earlier in the class, the students had been exposed to Esri’s Story Maps platform as part of the class. They decided that a Story Map would be the perfect way to create this product. A Story Map lets users combine narrative text and media along with interactive maps to create rich presentations that can be shared and viewed over the web.

The Story Map Team identified the various topics to include in the Story Map and divided into groups to research, design, and develop each section. Each section includes a combination of narrative text, photos, video, and/or interactive maps and students experimented with the various ways to enrich their topics with maps and geographic information. Topics included history; goals and objectives; farm layout; weather concerns; and the future of the farm.

Click here to see the group’s final Story Map

SURF presentation collage

Students presented to class and guests

With all the data collected, maps made, and Story Map created, all that was left to do was to stand up and present it to the class and an audience. For the final presentation on the last day of class, each team got up and presented their topic to our partners in Community Service Learning along with some invited guests. The format was relatively fun and informal but students were graded by the instructors and their peers on the products and presentation of the topic. All of our guests (notably Tim Rogers and Tony Mueller) agreed that the presentations were engaging and everyone was amazed at what the class accomplished in just a few weeks!

Final Thoughts
This service learning project at the farm was a remarkable success. The project was fun with real positive implications for the students’ immediate campus community. In general, the students were invested and engaged in the work which, in turn, led to a stronger understanding of the material and GIS methods presented in class as they applied what they had learned to a “real world” project. The products of this project will be immediately used to more effectively and efficiently manage the farm as well as to educate and promote the farm and its value to the campus community. Plans are also in the works to continue working with the farm and the data & maps created as the basis for service learning projects in the future.

A special thank you to both Tim Rogers and Tony Mueller in Community Service who were extremely helpful and gracious as they volunteered their time to participate in the project, meet with the students, provide feedback, and dig up a wealth of photos and other content from several years of working on the farm.

A few links…