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Urban Agriculture: Risks and Rewards

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Lillian Hwang

on 28 November 2012

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Transcript of Urban Agriculture: Risks and Rewards

Urban Agriculture Urban agriculture is growing... High levels of lead in Boston city compost From Seattle to Chicago to Boston, cities around the country are pursuing a wide range of initiatives intended to encourage urban agriculture. Officials tout the contributions urban gardens make to people’s health and sense of community. They describe the act of producing food locally as empowering for everyone involved, but particularly for inner city, low income, minority communities. Deval Patrick toured a Boston garden in September: Risks and Rewards Lead impacts child development Are the soils used to nurture these seemingly wholesome fruits and vegetables a threat to public health? The fact is that farming or gardening in an urban environment is simply not the same as operating in a rural area. Various sources of contaminants of concern to public health are present.
industrial waste products
road exhaust
gas or oil runoff
leaching from wood or metal dividers used for raised beds
animal waste
contaminated compost or ‘clean’ fill (street sweepings for example) Hidden Dangers... industrial waste products road exhaust image credit: Chris Porter, via Flickr - http://www.flickr.com/photos/canadianveggie/2544702061/ image credit: Photo credit: Simone Ramella via Flickr Creative Commons http://www.flickr.com/photos/ramella/349255589/sizes/o/in/photostream/ gas or oil runoff Photo credit: Vestman via Flickr Creative Commons, http://www.flickr.com/photos/vestman/3543859400/ Photo credit: Chocolatebrownies via Flickr Creative Commons, http://www.flickr.com/photos/chocolatebrownies/2833419250/ contaminated compost street sweepings Chemicals of concern range from lead to cadmium to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to arsenic.

Of these, lead is the most pervasive and well-studied. Lead in Boston soils comes from paint chips (most old buildings built before 1978 were painted with lead paint), leaded gasoline, lead plumbing, lead arsenate pesticides [no longer in use] and lead batteries and automotive parts. Chemicals of Concern lead from paint chips lead from paint chips Photo credit: wayneandwax via Flickr Creative Commons, http://www.flickr.com/photos/wayneandwax/119879806/sizes/o/in/photostream/ Photo credit: ClintJCL via Flickr Creative Commons, http://www.flickr.com/photos/clintjcl/6322411439/sizes/o/in/photostream/ Photo credit: Natacha Poggio via Flickr Creative Commons, http://www.flickr.com/photos/valkiria/3393391781/ lead from dumping
an auto battery Recent media coverage, such as that in The Boston Globe and on WBUR describe high levels of lead found in City-produced compost. The city hasn’t been making its compost available to gardeners for the last few years because of safety concerns.

A Crisis For Urban Gardeners: Rising Levels Of Lead In Boston Compost | WBUR

Boston Globe: "High lead content ruins Boston’s cherished compost"

Harvesting crops at Revision Urban Farm - Photo credit: Lillian Steenblik Hwang Though consumers may be exposed to some levels of lead through food grown in contaminated soils, producers are at a greater risk of exposure. People are exposed through working the soil with their hands, by breathing contaminated air while working and lastly by eating food produced in contaminated soils. Lead Exposure Harvesting crops at Revision Urban Farm - Photo credit: Lillian Steenblik Hwang Harvested crops at Revision Urban Farm - Photo credit: Lillian Steenblik Hwang Lead exposure poses the greatest risk to children's developing nervous systems. It can affect development, diminish learning abilities, alter behaviors and hamper growth.

Since urban agriculture is not the only source of lead for most urban populations and lead bio-accumulates in the body, experts advise people to limit their exposure as much as possible. Photo credit: Clairspics via Flickr Creative Commons http://www.flickr.com/photos/ggandco/7186432737/ Photo credit: tacomamama via Flickr Creative Commons http://www.flickr.com/photos/tacomamama/515560782/ Urban food producers derive a sense of community from sharing resources such as tools, water, soil and knowledge to produce food.

As is obvious upon visiting the Chelsea Community Garden, working outdoors can be positive, especially as an alternative to negative activities (drugs, TV, etc.). By giving people a space to grow foods of their own choosing, community gardens in particular provide participants with an opportunity to celebrate their heritage and to learn from others.

The food grown in these settings is often the freshest available; it provides access to nutritious, tasty foods that would otherwise be unavailable or difficult to get. Safe farming, the urban way Lead can be a risk almost anywhere.
Even the Obama's tested the soil at the White House before putting in their garden. It’s best to play it safe. Rather than avoiding city gardens altogether, scientists and extension services recommend several ways to stay safe while growing food crops in an urban environment. Photo credit: Brent Nashville via Flickr Creative Commons, http://www.flickr.com/photos/brent_nashville/6285844760/sizes/o/in/photostream/ Photo credit: Futureatlas.com via Flickr Creative Commons, http://www.flickr.com/photos/87913776@N00/ Chelsea Community Garden
http://chelseacommunitygarden.weebly.com/ Chelsea Community Garden Photo credit: Lillian Steenblik Hwang Safe Urban Farming Tips Know the history of the property (types of former uses)

Test soil (both existing and what you bring in - compost, ‘clean’ fill)

Use raised beds; take care with applied chemicals (many community gardens are organic)

Choose crops less likely to absorb lead (for example, avoid roots or leafy greens)
Wash dust from produce/remove outer leaves

You can decrease the bio-availability of lead in soil by increasing the phosphorous levels and neutralizing the pH (adding lime, phosphorus, organic matter) Soil testing for lead Chelsea Community Garden Photo credit: Lillian Steenblik Hwang Use raised beds for planting, with clean soil Chelsea Community Garden Photo credit: Lillian Steenblik Hwang Revision Garden, Photo credit: Lillian Steenblik Hwang Avoid root vegetables and leafy greens By Nora Doyle-Burr
Lillian Steenblik Hwang Rewards
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