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Category — Soil

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

Metal contamination found in Vancouver community garden, brownfield sites

oakcg16 Oaks Community Garden in Vancouver. A recent study detected metal contamination associated with high traffic ares in the soil. Photograph by: Arlen Redekop.
Soil research suggests study required before growing food on land near busy transportation corridors

By Randy Shore,
Vancouver Sun
December 2, 2014


An eight-month study of Vancouver garden and agricultural soils has found levels of lead and other metals above the most stringent Canadian standards for human health.

Samples taken from the 16 Oaks community garden averaged 219 parts per million of lead, which exceeds the standard of 70 to 140 ppm for agricultural, residential and park land set by the Canadian Council of Environment Ministers.

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December 2, 2014   Comments Off

Documentary ‘Symphony of the Soil’ online until October 10

See the complete video on this page until October 10.

Extols the Importance and Mystery of Soil

By Dr. Mercola
Oct 1, 2014


One of Earth’s greatest treasures is soil, without which we could not survive. Soil is the mother of nearly all plant life, and ultimately, all animal life on this planet. It’s the interface between biology and geology—the living skin of the earth.

A new documentary, “Symphony of the Soil,” extols the importance and mystery of soil, as discussed by some of the world’s most esteemed scientists, farmers, and activists.1 This visually stunning film reveals how the future of humankind largely depends on how well we care for this vital natural resource.

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October 7, 2014   Comments Off

Asbestos discovery at Northey Street City Farm, Brisbane, Australia

Genevieve Wills Nursery co-ordinator at Northey street city farm mulching the garden bed.

Brisbane City Council has closed the Northey Street City Farm ahead of its huge Winter Solstice celebrations on Saturday after finding asbestos.

The Australian News
June 20, 2014


Mr Copeman said without prior notice, council shut down 3.5 acres of the site with fencing after the discovery of demolition waste, including asbestos and possibly heavy metals.

The discovery was made during a BCC inspection related to an approved development of a picnic shed on the site; Mr Copeman said NSCF was cooperating with BCC in the investigation and management of the demolition waste.

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June 30, 2014   Comments Off

Urban cultivation in allotments maintains soil qualities adversely affected by conventional agriculture

Photo by Walker Evans. 1974.

Typical urban soils are shown to be comparable to semi-natural ecosystems and of considerably better quality than agricultural soils, and this is maintained under cultivation in allotments, which receive regular organic inputs from manures and composts.

By Jill L. Edmondson1,*, Zoe G. Davies2, Kevin J. Gaston3 andJonathan R. Leake1
Journal of Applied Ecology
Article first published online: 24 Apr 2014


This research demonstrates that own-growing in urban allotments, in contrast to arable crop production, does not trade off the soil quality measures that are positively associated with regulating and supporting ecosystem services, in order to deliver provisioning ecosystem services. Typical urban soils are shown to be comparable to semi-natural ecosystems and of considerably better quality than agricultural soils, and this is maintained under cultivation in allotments, which receive regular organic inputs from manures and composts. Allotment cultivation may provide a model for understanding management systems for sustainably delivering multiple ecosystem services without the provision of one type of service compromising the delivery of another. Further work is now required to quantify the ecosystem services provided by allotments, the potential and actual yield of crops in urban environments, and the area currently under cultivation. For urban allotment cultivation to be more sustainable, efforts should be made to replace OM and nutrient inputs derived directly from agriculture with those derived from composting putrescible wastes in cities. Our findings lend additional support to the view that own-growing provides multiple human and environmental benefits and has a role to play in more sustainable living in urban areas.

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June 11, 2014   Comments Off

Concerns about toxic soils in New York’s Community Gardens

Photo by Richard B. Levine.

In New York City, there are more than 700 community gardens and urban farms.

By Vinnie Mancuso
New York Observer


Bad news for people who like to support their local community gardens when shopping for their vegetables. Good news for people who love ingesting arsenic and lead with their vegetables.

The New York Post reports that a study on soil contamination by the state Center for Environmental Health found toxic soil at 70 percent of New York’s gardens. A shocking 44 percent of the total gardens had lead levels above federal guidelines.

A Freedom of Information Law request by the Post revealed the exact names and locations those gardens most contaminated. Brooklyn did not come out looking so hot.

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May 13, 2014   Comments Off

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   Comments Off

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