Fostering community gardens in an area with historic soil contamination

Oct 18, 2013

The soil in industrial cities is often an overlooked resource. Years of manufacturing or other industrial processes can leave contaminants in the soils and scare residents away from using the land. As the local food movement grows, though, planners and gardeners must reconcile the desire to grow food in cities with the fear that the soils are contaminated.

On Tuesday, Nov. 5 at 10:35 am, Kristen McIvor of the Pierce Conservation District will discuss the challenges and benefits of urban gardening. Her talk, Fostering Community Gardens in an Area with Historic Soil Contamination, is part of is part of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America Annual Meetings, Nov. 3-6 in Tampa, Florida. The theme of this year's conference is "Water, Food, Energy, & Innovation for a Sustainable World."

In Tacoma, Washington, a copper smelter operated for nearly 100 years contaminating the soil in some areas of the city. While remediation has improved soils, residents have become hyper-aware of the threat of soil contamination. But often, that fear is misplaced.

In her effort to establish , McIvor has worked with soil throughout the city. "We test all of the soils before we start building a garden," she explains. "None of the tests have shown any results to be concerned about. Even though there is the perception of soils being very toxic here, our experience is that that is not true."

While testing has shown that there is little to fear in the soils of Tacoma, residents are still hesitant to dig in and start growing . And without dedicated growers and organizers, urban agriculture can't flourish. So McIvor and her colleagues work hard to educate growers and help them manage their gardens in ways that eliminate any contamination fears.

Raised beds are often built on top of existing land and filled with new soil or compost. And the city of Tacoma does its part to help. TAGRO, a biosolid-based soil product that contains nutrients that plants need, is provided to growers free of charge. Raised beds and TAGRO help growers feel comfortable with the soil and build productive gardens. And residents are taking notice.

"With TAGRO, you can turn a beginning gardener into someone who has a garden plot full of food," says McIvor. "When people see the amazing yields, it's not a hard sell."

The number of urban gardens in Tacoma has increased from 14 to 34 in just three years. Other cities can follow that lead and find ways to educate people about soils and contamination while encouraging growers. These efforts will give people access to fresh, local food regardless of the history of their .

Explore further: Urban soil quality and compost

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Urban soil quality and compost

Oct 15, 2013

With higher populations and limited space, urban areas are not often thought of as places for agriculture. A recent surge in community gardens, though, is bringing agriculture and gardens into the cities. And certain byproducts ...

How lead gets into urban vegetable gardens

Nov 01, 2010

One common mitigation approach is to build a raised bed and fill it with freshly composted, low-lead soil from elsewhere, right? Maybe not, according to researchers studying the mysterious case of the lead contamination found ...

New soil testing kit for third world countries

Oct 16, 2013

Researchers at the University of Maryland and Columbia University have developed a new soil testing kit designed to help farmers in third world countries. On-the-spot soil testing could have major impact ...

Recommended for you

Green dream: Can UN summit revive climate issue?

4 hours ago

Five years ago, the environment movement was in its heyday as politicians, actors, rock stars and protestors demanded a looming UN summit brake the juggernaut of climate change.

Rio's Olympic golf course in legal bunker

Sep 18, 2014

The return of golf to the Olympics after what will be 112 years by the time Rio hosts South America's first Games in 2016 comes amid accusations environmental laws were got round to build the facility in ...

User comments : 0