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Category — Soil

Keeping Philadelphia’s soil safe

Stephen P. Peterson has been examining the presence of lead and other potentially harmful heavy metals in the soil in Fairmount Park—the largest inner-city park system in the U.S. and the site of some urban agriculture. Photo by Joseph V. Labolito.

Older industrial cities like Philadelphia tend to have higher lead and heavy-metals concentrations in their soil than the national average.

By Preston Moretz
Temple University
News Center


“Everywhere I went in the park—no matter how old the area was or how dense the woods were—the levels of lead and other metals were well above Philadelphia’s normal level, which is already above the national average,” he said.

All but one of the urban gardens tested were in raised planting beds where the soil had been brought in from elsewhere, so heavy-metals levels were low. “The Fairmount Park people are doing it right bringing in fresh topsoil, but these raised beds can still see their lead levels increase, because they can be influenced by the areas around them,” he explained.

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April 19, 2014   No Comments

Urban Gardening: Managing the Risks of Contaminated Soil

In 2012, 35% of U.S. households grew food, spending $3.3 billion in the process, up from 31% of households spending $2.5 billion in 2008. One million households participated in community gardens in 2008.

Former parking lots and car washes often carry metals, PAHs, petroleum products, solvents, or surfactants. Demolished commercial or industrial buildings may leave behind asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls, petroleum products, or lead-based paint chips, dust, or debris. High-traffic roadways have a legacy of lead and PAHs from vehicle exhaust. Former parks and lands adjacent to railroad rights-of-way can bear pesticide residues.

By Rebecca Kessler
Environ Health Perspectives; DOI:10.1289/ehp.121-A326
(Must Read. Mike)

Author Rebecca Kessler is all too familiar with the difficulties and uncertainties of cleaning up dirty urban soil, having embarked on a multiyear project to convert a paved parking lot at her Providence, Rhode Island, home into a beautiful and fruitful garden.


The most thorough solution to cleaning up a garden is to remove the contaminated soil, then lay down a special fabric barrier topped with clean soil.4 But that’s a huge undertaking that can cost thousands of dollars, even for a small yard, putting it out of reach for most gardeners.

Simply installing the barrier fabric and new soil on top of the old is a more feasible option. So is building raised beds filled with clean soil—especially for root crops—and covering any exposed contaminated soil with mulch or grass. Less problematic soils can be amended by mixing in plenty of compost to dilute contaminants and bind them to soil particles. Gardeners can further reduce their exposure by peeling root crops, removing the outer leaves of leafy crops, washing their produce and hands before eating, and leaving dirty garden gear outside.

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December 3, 2013   Comments Off

Vancouver Company Produces Compost Tea

tea1Combining ingredients. Photo by Michael Levenston.

MicroBug – BioExtracts for improved plant health

By Tom McConkey
Sept 25, 2013

Compost Tea is not a new idea but one that has evolved. Our product, Microbug , is a liquid form of compost, with concentrated beneficial microbes plus organic plant growth promoting substances. Quality is key. All of inputs, as well as the finished product, are lab tested. It also has a shelf life of up to 14 days. This is a game changer. Now a “living product can be delivered and used before its best before date. With our attention to quality control we can ensure the effectiveness of our product.

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September 26, 2013   Comments Off

Soils in Rice/Wheat Based Cropping System in Peri-urban Bhaktapur, Nepal


A study in peri-urban areas of Nepal’s Bhaktapur district showed the lack of technical know-how among farmers regarding preparation and use of farm yard manure and balanced application of chemical fertilizers.

By Sushil Thapa and Juni Maharjan
May 11, 2013

Nepal is endowed with diverse climatic conditions and agro-biodiversity which offer bundles of opportunity to grow rice and wheat. Though, in recent years especially in urban centers, farmers are motivated towards commercial vegetable production for getting better yield and economic return, rice-wheat based cropping system (RWCS) is still a major part of Nepalese agriculture.

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May 17, 2013   2 Comments

Chicago group plans for a community garden in formerly toxic soil

Photo by Camden Bauchner.

Sunflowers, a plant well known for its ability to absorb and mitigate harmful soil toxins through the process of phytoremediation.

By Zachary Goldhammer
Chicago Weekly
April 25, 2013


Past the intersection of 114th and St. Lawrence, across from the House of Hope, a 10,000-seat Baptist megachurch, and over the historic tracks of the Pullman railroad, a two-and-a-half-acre plot of land, has been left—like so many other South Side lots—completely vacant for years. The area’s soil has long been poisoned by waste from its former resident, a Sherwin-Williams paint factory, and the few remains of wildlife that may have once grown alongside the railway have been killed off by pesticides and herbicides that the rail company sprayed along the length of its tracks.

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May 6, 2013   Comments Off

Eco-Soil Veggie Mix made for urban farmers in Greater Vancouver

Promotion video features community garden organizer testimonial

Organic Veggie Soil Mix

“The only true veggie soil available in our area. Specially formulated to maximize vegetable growth. This free draining, nutrient rich soil is high in beneficial organic matter and micro-nutrients. This proprietary blend of premium PH balanced composts and an appropriate amount of sand provides for optimum growing conditions.”

Link to company website.

March 29, 2013   Comments Off

War on Weeds in Rural Canadian Municipalities

After their plants died in 2010, David Neufeld (pictured) and Maggie Andres rediscovered that the herbicide Tordon 101 was used in nearby ditches. Photo by Maggie Andres.

Manitoba farmers grappling with impacts and legality of municipal herbicide use

By Larry Powell
The Dominion
Feb 19, 2013


There, they became the first and only producers in the province at the time to market certified organic seedlings, such as tomatoes, peppers and medicinal herbs, to fellow growers. Over the years, their rural homestead became a gathering point for others who shared their passion for a simpler way of living.

While no longer officially certified as organic, the two were still producing their plants without the use of chemicals when tragedy struck in 2010. To their horror, as Neufeld put it, “Every single one of our plants curled up grotesquely and died!” He estimates this resulted in a revenue loss of $10,000.

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February 20, 2013   Comments Off

Urban Gardening and Lead Exposure – University of Cincinnati

Tips for growing safely in the city and preventing childhood lead poisoning

University of Cincinnati Health and Medical News

Bill Menrath – Lead expert and Senior Research Associate, UC Department of Environmental Health

Nick Newman, DO – Director, Pediatric Environmental Health and Lead Clinic, cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

Lead experts from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center talk about ways to reduce the risk of lead exposure when gardening on city plots.

February 2, 2013   Comments Off

Mexico City – A novel market swaps rubbish for city grown vegetables

The project provides welcome jobs for the city’s farmers, many of whom work in the watery southern district of Xochimilco.

The Economist
Oct 27th 2012


The 21 million residents of Mexico City have far too much rubbish and not enough healthy food. Now they can swap one for the other. A new monthly market run by the city government takes paper, glass, plastic and aluminium in return for tokens that can be swapped for locally grown food and plants. Since it began in March the “Barter Market” in Chapultepec park has exchanged 140 tonnes of rubbish for 60 tonnes of produce.

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November 4, 2012   Comments Off

Evaluation of Urban Soils: Suitability for Green Infrastructure or Urban Agriculture – EPA Report

This report provides a concise, practical, and scientifically-based overview of the typical conditions of urban soils, and offers recommendations for how such soils can be rehabilitated or reconditioned to support green infrastructure or urban agriculture.

US Environmental Protection Agency
EPA Publication No. 905R11003
Dec, 2011

Executive Summary

Many urban areas are experiencing a significant increase in the number of vacant properties and a corresponding underutilization of substantial tracts of land. As part of efforts to revitalize these areas, communities are looking at green reuses of vacant properties, including parks, green infrastructure, and urban agriculture. The poor condition of the soils on these properties, however, can often be
a significant impediment to green infrastructure and urban agriculture uses. The soils are often severely compacted, lack sufficient organic matter, and can contain large amounts of construction debris, making them unsuitable as a growing medium.

This report provides a concise, practical, and scientifically-based overview of the typical conditions of urban soils, and offers recommendations for how such soils can be rehabilitated or reconditioned to support green infrastructure or urban agriculture. Reconditioning methods for improving poor quality soils will vary depending on soil conditions and the intended use of the site.

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October 16, 2012   Comments Off

Community Garden Heavy Metal Study

Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), Canada

By Sadra-Heidary-Monfared
Environment Canada Science Horizon Youth Internship Program, Nova Scotia Agricultural College (NSAC), and the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM). Ecology Action Centre (EAC)
January 2011


This study was conducted to assess the level of heavy-metal contamination in the soils of urban gardens in the HRM. Four elements were chosen, and their concentrations in existing and potential urban gardens were measured. Soil samples were taken from specified locations following standard protocols. The following issues were addressed:

Development of survey design, sampling and analytical protocols; Identification of potential and existing urban gardens in the HRM; Selection of heavy metals of concern;
Collection, preparation and analysis of soil samples;
Comparison of the results of this study to studies conducted in other Canadian cities, and to background levels for native soils in Nova Scotia; and Investigation of potential spatial pattern for contamination occurrence within the HRM.

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August 24, 2012   1 Comment

How healthy is urban horticulture in high traffic areas?

Trace metal concentrations in vegetable crops from plantings within inner city neighbourhoods in Berlin, Germany

By Ina Säumela, Iryna Kotsyukb, Marie Hölschera, Claudia Lenkereita, Frauke Webera, Ingo Kowarika
Department of Ecology, Technische Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Botanical Garden of Khmelnitskij National University, Ukraine
Environmental Pollution
Volume 165, June 2012, Pages 124–132
21 March 2012.


Food production by urban dwellers is of growing importance in developing and developed countries. Urban horticulture is associated with health risks as crops in urban settings are generally exposed to higher levels of pollutants than those in rural areas. We determined the concentration of trace metals in the biomass of different horticultural crops grown in the inner city of Berlin, Germany, and analysed how the local setting shaped the concentration patterns.

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August 23, 2012   Comments Off

Soil Survey Says: Testing Community Gardens

Soil is collected for sampling in Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Hart to Hart community garden. Photo courtesy of Cornell.

“Don’t even dig. Buy a box and new soil. You’re better off with a clean area,” she said. “People have been living there for 300 years. It’s better to build up than dig down.”

By Georgia Kral
August 20, 2012


But all this toiling in the urban soil begs the question: is it safe?

The answer isn’t crystal clear — yet, but Green Thumb, the Parks Department organization that organizes gardens, distributes mulch and compost and offers education about gardening is currently investigating soil quality. In 2009, a consortium made up of Cornell University, Cornell’s Cooperative Extension in NYC, the New York State Department of Health and Green Thumb formed to determine the extent and distribution of metal elements in the soil and whether or not the produce grown in gardens is safe to eat. Just a fraction of the city’s community gardens are part of the study.

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August 20, 2012   Comments Off

“Is city-grown food safe?”

“We need to ask more questions of our food supply, both urban and rural.”

By Eli Zigas
13 Sept 2011


As someone who works on urban agricultural policy, I’m often asked, “Is city-grown food safe?” The question comes from aspiring urban gardeners and concerned eaters alike. And it seems to stem from both a fear of the known and a fear of the unknown.

First, the fear of the known: Common urban contaminants include lead, arsenic, and other heavy metals leaked into soil from old paint, leaded gasoline, modern car exhaust, and industrial land-use.

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September 14, 2011   Comments Off

How Safe Is Your Soil?

Volunteers from City Slicker Farms helped install raised beds in Laura Blakeney’s yard to avoid contaminated soil. Photo by Nate Seltenrich.

Urban farming has become hugely popular in the East Bay, but lead and other heavy metals in the soil pose potential health risks. Meanwhile, there’s little consensus on what to do about it.

By Nate Seltenrich
East Bay Express
Aug 3, 2011


These are the dilemmas that cities and urban gardeners now face. Yet organizations like City Slicker Farms are working hard to develop safe, practical solutions to soil contamination. Since 2005 the organization has set up 170 backyard gardens, including about 140 in West Oakland, all at no cost to the recipients. The initial step is always a soil test. While few lots exhibit truly dangerous levels, most are elevated and require some form of remediation — typically, covering the soil with mulch and growing vegetables in raised beds.

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August 3, 2011   3 Comments