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Group Examines Whether Soil in Urban Farms in Bed-Stuy and Other Communities is Safe

Green Thumb, partnered with Cornell University, has been working on the soil survey since 2009.

Urban farming has caught on throughout New York City, but the question remains – is it safe to plant herbs and produce in city soil?

According to Metrofocus, that’s what Green Thumb – an organization of the Parks Department that helps educate gardeners and provide them with mulch and compost – wants to know.

A study into the city’s soil started in 2009, led by Green Thumb, the state Department of Health and Cornell University, and has already analyzed more than 900 soil samples from 44 gardens, says Metrofocus. The project is now examining whether toxicity in the soil is transferred to fruits and vegetables.

Sixty-one percent of gardens tested had at least one sample that tested higher than a guidance level for contamination set by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. The most likely contaminates found in the gardens were lead and barium, says Metrofocus.

According to Cornell, most of New York City's gardens were found to have very low contamination levels. Ninety-two percent of the areas sampled had lead levels below the guidance level.

“This was an opportunity to take a closer look at our soil,” said Green Thumb Deputy Director Roland Chouloute.

Bed-Stuy’s Hart to Hart garden was one of the gardens tested by the group, and gardeners like Margot Dorn were worried about being in contact toxic soil.

“Our garden is really bad for all that stuff. Our garden is on top of a construction site,” said Dorn, who had been gardening for about two years. We “needed a lot of remediation and new soil.”

And though Hart to Hart was granted clean and safe, Dorn warns that the risks of planting in urban soil probably outweight the benefits.

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

Beverl segers August 21, 2012 at 10:57 PM
YES " THE GARDEN ON HANCOCK STREET HAD HIGH LEAD CONTENT. WE BROGHT NEW SOIL AND PLANTED IN NEW SOIL. BUT A LAYER OF PLASTIC WAS PUT BETWEEN THE NEW SOIL AND THE OLD. THIS YEAR THERE WAS NO PLANTING . NO NEW SOIL WAS LAID. SO NOO PLANTING. THIS SITE WAS AN EMPTY LOT THAT WAS STRUN WITH GARBAGE AND OLD PAINT CANS.

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