New Stories From 'Urban Agriculture Notes'
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Category — Environment

Havana, Cuba – Lettuces of Lead


The lack of an effective system of trash sorting and processing works against us, because much of the waste used for compost in the urban organic gardens has had previous contact with materials like cans, paints, and batteries, thrown indiscriminately into landfills all over the country.

By Rosa Lopez
1 March 2015


Nationwide, about 40,000 people work in urban agriculture projects on some 83,000 acres (130 square miles) that are divided into 145,000 parcels, 385,000 patios*, 6,400 intensive gardens and 4,000 urban organic gardens. These last under the leadership of the Ministry of Agriculture, although with some autonomy for crop management.

With these lands planted in populated areas, it has been the goal to reduce food insecurity, offer greater access to fresh produce and to expand green spaces in urban zones.

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March 11, 2015   Comments Off

City Bees Are Actually More Diverse Than Country Bees

beeredA honeybee visits a flower in Bath, England (Nick Upton).

Other pollinators don’t like urban areas as much as rural, but bees live in similar numbers across different landscapes

By Marissa Fessenden
February 12, 2015


Katherine Baldock, of the University of Bristol, surveyed pollinator abundance across 36 different sites that spanned farmland, nature reserves and urban areas. Her team counted honey bees, bumble bees and other flying pollinators. The group found that each area had about the same amount of total pollinators. Even though urban areas might not seem like the ideal place for flower-loving bees, those landscapes held more diverse bee species, though the other pollinators were less diverse and numerous. Baldock and her colleagues published their findings in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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February 24, 2015   Comments Off

The Living Landscape


Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden

By Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy
Timber Press

A home garden is often seen as separate from the natural world surrounding it. In truth, it is actually just one part of a larger landscape made up of many living layers. And the replacement of the rich layers of native flora with turf grass greatly diminishes a garden’s biological diversity and ecological function.

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February 18, 2015   Comments Off

Green Education promotes urban agriculture in Long Beach, California

Stella Ursua stands by a community farm on Spring Street. Ursua helped organize the Long Beach Green Prize. Long Beach, CA. Photo by Steve McCrank.

Stella Ursua works for a greener Long Beach

By Andrew Edwards

For Stella Ursua, an acre or so’s worth of carrots, kale, strawberries, tomatoes and other produce growing in the middle of the city is but an example of her vision for a greener city.

The crops grow at a place called Lincoln Spring Farms, near the crossing of Spring Street and Atlantic Avenue within site of Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. The catchphrase for such a place is “urban farming,” and Ursua herself doesn’t run the farm, she said. It’s an example of the kinds of activity her organization, Green Education Inc., seeks to promote.

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January 10, 2015   Comments Off

Washington DC urban farm site is an ecological disaster

BrightFarms Inc. CEO Paul Lightfoot standing near the banks of the Oxon Run in Washington, on land that his company is leasing from the District of Columbia government to build a greenhouse and urban farm. Lightfoot is considering abandoning the project because of extensive contamination on the city-controlled land, which has been used for years for illegal dumping and an unlicensed landfill. Some of the waste has made it into the waterway, a tributary of the Potomac River. AP Photo/Ben Nuckols.

BrightFarms Inc. is considering abandoning the project because of extensive contamination on the city-controlled land

By Ben Nuckols
Associated Press
December 23, 2014


WASHINGTON (AP) – In May 2013, the mayor of the nation’s capital announced that the city would partner with a produce supplier to build what the company called “the most productive urban farm in the world.”

But no one bothered to inspect the site. If they had, they would have found an unlicensed landfill that’s 18 feet deep; 10-foot-high piles of debris including roofing material and insulation; and rusting petroleum containers on the banks of a creek.

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December 26, 2014   Comments Off

Are your urban veggies really toxic?


The New York State Department of Health, along with those same soil-researchers at Cornell, put together a list of 10 best practices for healthy gardening in and around contaminated urban soils.

By Liz Core
21 Nov 2014


Vigil told me that the farms have soil tested every year for lead levels, and the results have always come out safe. So when the press started railing against the toxic dangers of his veggies, Vigil was put off (OK, he was royally ticked). He wrote an open letter about what’s really going on and how urban farmers are handling soil toxins. Here’s a taste:

In the past two years we have partnered with the Department of Sanitation to distribute over 5,000 bags of NYC Compost to East New York gardens, and applied over 10 cubic yards of new compost to our farm.

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December 11, 2014   Comments Off

Research Paper: Concentrations of lead, cadmium and barium in urban garden-grown vegetables


The impact of soil variables

By Murray B. McBridea, Hannah A. Shaylera, Henry M. Spliethoffb, Rebecca G. Mitchellb, Lydia G. Marquez- Bravob, Gretchen S. Ferenzc, Jonathan M. Russell-Anellia, Linda Caseyc, and Sharon Bachmand
Published in Environmental Pollution – August 2014

Paired vegetable/soil samples from New York City and Buffalo, NY, gardens were analyzed for lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd) and barium (Ba). Vegetable aluminum (Al) was measured to assess soil adherence. Soil and vegetable metal concentrations did not correlate; vegetable concentrations varied by crop type. Pb was below health-based guidance values (EU standards) in virtually all fruits.

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December 11, 2014   Comments Off

NASA Interested in Robotic Gardening Technology Developed by University Students

Heather Hava, right, who is working on a doctorate in aerospace engineering sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, describes a computerized system she is developing with other graduate students participating in the exploration HABitat (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge.

The ROGR robots can visit a specific plant to deliver water or to locate and grasp a fruit or vegetable. If an astronaut requests tomatoes for a salad, the system decides which specific plants have the ripest tomatoes and assigns parallel harvesting tasks to ROGR.

By Bob Granath
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida
July 7, 2014


For more than a half-century, NASA has made the stuff of science fiction into reality. Researchers are continuing that tradition by designing robots to work in a deep-space habitat, tending gardens and growing food for astronaut explorers. It sounds like a concept from Star Wars, but a team of graduate students from the University of Colorado Boulder is now developing the innovative technology to make it possible.

As astronauts explore beyond Earth, they will need to make their habitat as self-sustaining as possible. This includes growing fruits and vegetables.

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November 17, 2014   Comments Off

Global assessment of urban and peri-urban agriculture: irrigated and rainfed croplands


Understanding the role of urban and peri-urban crop production in urban food security at scale remains a major knowledge gap in the field of urban agriculture.

By A L Thebo1, P Drechsel and E F Lambin
Environmental Research Letters
Published 3 November 2014


The role of urban agriculture in global food security is a topic of increasing discussion. Existing research on urban and peri-urban agriculture consists largely of case studies that frequently use disparate definitions of urban and peri-urban agriculture depending on the local context and study objectives. This lack of consistency makes quantification of the extent of this practice at the global scale difficult. This study instead integrates global data on croplands and urban extents using spatial overlay analysis to estimate the global area of urban and peri-urban irrigated and rainfed croplands.

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November 11, 2014   Comments Off

Cuba’s Urban Gardens: health risks stemming from urban or semi-urban agriculture


The notorious case of Cuba’s largest dumpsite, located on 100 St, in Havana’s neighborhood of Marianao, is illustrative of this. Its residues have affected nearly all surrounding crops, both at urban vegetable gardens and traditional croplands.

By Isbel Diaz Torres
Havana Times
Oct 14, 2014
(Must read. Mike)


Under these types of conditions, as in those in which crops are close to highways, contamination through the absorption of heavy metals found in soils, air or water, is a dangerous risk.

Only the community’s real involvement in the handling of such spaces could guarantee the efficient protection of crops against the many contaminating agents out there. Cuba, however, has merely created more State establishments, akin to rationed product points, where vegetables are simply sold, and, to top things off, in a manner subordinate to the inefficient Ministry of Agriculture.

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October 24, 2014   Comments Off

Satellite images reveal shocking groundwater loss in California


“Most climate models indicate that by the end of this century, the dry regions of the world will become drier.”

By Karen Kaplan
Los Angeles Times
Oct 2, 2014


The severity of California’s drought continues to shock, with the latest example coming courtesy of NASA.

The space agency’s two Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, or GRACE, satellites have been been in orbit since 2002, making highly sensitive measurements of Earth’s gravity field. Variations in the gravity field can be caused by a number of factors, including the amount of water stored underground in soil and rocks.

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October 8, 2014   Comments Off

Creating a Pesticide Free Neighborhood in Portland

The Pesticide Free Project has passed its 1-year mark, and has gotten 400 homes to sign the pesticide free pledge

By Rebecca Gerendasy
Cooking Up a Story
Sept 2014


As Melco explains in the video, the main goal of the project is to protect residents, especially babies and young children— from chronic, low-level exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. Through a partnership with Portland Metro, The Xerces Society, and Backyard Habitat Certification Program, Melco and her team are going door to door canvasing the 2500 homes to educate homeowners.

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September 27, 2014   Comments Off

Birds and berries in my grandmother’s garden


Worthy, indeed, is the garden that is planted, not for beauty alone, but for the welfare of Nature’s children as well.

By the Bird Man.


A host of fruit-loving birds lived in the garden in early summer. They feasted continuously on choke and wild cherries, and cloyingly sweet mulberries. Seldom at any other season, did the shy, elusive cedar wax-wings enter the garden, but love of the purple fruit of the mulberry dispelled all fear in June. The bluebirds and orioles were equally fond of it, but they must, perchance, satisfy their appetites with that which fell to the ground, for the wax-wings claimed the trees.

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September 26, 2014   Comments Off

‘Lawn Dude’ Prods Californians to Battle Drought by Conserving Water


Gov. Jerry Brown, meanwhile, has asked residents across the state to cut water use by 20%, a goal that has proved slippery so far. In some areas of the state, landscaping accounts for half of daily water use …

By Tamara Audi
Wall Street Journal
Aug. 1, 2014


The new mascot will be popping up on billboards donated by Clear Channel Outdoor across the parched region, spouting catchphrases like “Don’t hose me man!” as reminders to refrain from overwatering lawns. On another billboard, Lawn Dude carries a martini glass holding a daisy and says, “I only drink 2 days a week”—a nod to limits on outdoor irrigation to twice a week in some communities.

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August 9, 2014   Comments Off

The Hidden Dangers of Lead in Urban Gardens

Click on image for larger file. Fig. 1. A vacant lot urban farm highlighting abiotic challenges of urban agriculture, including: elevated atmospheric concentrations of industrial pollutants (A), elevated atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from traffic emissions (B), contaminated storm water runoff (C), Pb-contaminated soils adjacent to aging housing stock (e.g., paint chips) (D), soils contaminated by heavy metals and/or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (E), unpredictable access to municipal water sources (F), potentially contaminated recycled water sources (e.g., rainwater harvesting) (G), reduced light and wind speed due to the built environment (H), increased mechanical heat (e.g., air conditioners) (I), and increased surface temperatures from pavement and rooftops (J). Credits: This illustration from Sam Worman’s study shows the myriad challenges of urban gardeners, including lead sources.

When Ryan Kuck’s young twins both tested positive for elevated lead levels in their blood he was worried — but not surprised.

By Karen Pinchin
Modern Farmer
July 28, 2014


When it comes to remediation, there are a few ways to deal with the problem. One is cap-and-fill (covering over an existing lot with cement, then trucking in soil and building a garden overtop), which is preferred by many municipal governments, simply because it buries the problem, says Wortman. There is also phytoremediation, in which plants slightly better at absorbing lead, like mustards and sunflowers, are planted on vacant land, then harvested and disposed of over a long period of time. While this technique is trendy right now, probably because it feels like “using nature to heal nature,” Wortman says it isn’t practical or effective.

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August 5, 2014   Comments Off