Urban Soil Safety
Urban farmers and community garden leaders: we want YOU for the Safe Urban Harvests study!
In partnership with the Baltimore City Office of Sustainability, the Community Greening Resource Network and the Farm Alliance of Baltimore City, we are investigating potential contamination risks associated with urban agriculture in Baltimore City. We frequently hear questions about the safety of Baltimore’s soils and urban-grown produce. This study is an opportunity to gain real-world evidence that will help us speak to those concerns with greater confidence, with the goal of fostering a safe and vibrant urban food system.
We are surveying Baltimore's farm managers and community garden leaders, and collecting soil, irrigation water, and produce samples and analyzing them for the presence of heavy metals. For comparative purposes, we are also analyzing vegetables from supermarkets.
You can read more about the study here, then decide if you’d like to proceed with a 30-45 minute survey with questions about your farm or community garden.
The potential health, social, environmental, and economic benefits of urban farms and gardens are far-reaching. For example, studies have found associations between urban community gardens and increased access to healthy food, opportunities for exercise, stronger social cohesion in neighborhoods, and higher property values. And like any green space, urban farms and gardens offer essential ecosystem services like moderating temperatures and reducing storm water runoff.
There are also potential health risks associated with growing food in urban settings. Urban soils may harbor contaminants such as lead, petroleum products, and asbestos. People may come into contact with these contaminants if they work or play in contaminated soil, or eat food that was grown in it. Gardeners may be unaware of these risks and how to manage them.
In 2012, we partnered with the Community Greening Resource Network-Baltimore's gardening support network-to assess what gardeners know (and don't know) about soil contaminants, and what their concerns are. We used our findings to help inform city agencies, garden leaders, local nonprofits, and other groups working to promote safer gardening practices. A research article based on this study is available online.
In tandem with our research, we developed a soil safety resource guide for urban gardeners, farmers, and anyone interested in learning more about soil contaminant issues. It covers some of the basics, and provides a directory of online resources.
For residents of Baltimore City, CLF's Maryland Food System Mapping Project also developed an interactive map showing the locations of community gardens, school gardens, and urban farms in Baltimore City along with current and prior hazardous waste sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency or the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Support for this project was provided by a grant from the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute and a gift from the GRACE Communications Foundation.
Vacant Lots to Vibrant Plots: A Review of the Benefits and Limitations of Urban Agriculture
CLF Report, 2016
Integrating Urban Farms into the Social Landscape of Cities (Report, Summary)
Urban Community Gardeners' Knowledge and Perceptions of Soil Contaminant Risks
PLOS ONE, February 2014
Soil Safety Resource Guide for Urban Food Growers
Baltimore Urban Soil Safety Map
Bountiful Baltimore: A Study of Urban Foraging (Español, English)