Urban Gardeners Must Know More About Soil

People growing food in urban gardens need to know more about soil contamination, according to researchers from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF).

Although consuming food from urban gardens can have health benefits, a lack of knowledge about soil contamination could pose potential problems for both consumers and producers.

“Gardening in urban settings can…create opportunities for exposure to contaminants such as heavy metals, petroleum products, and asbestos,” said Keeve Nachman, PhD, senior author of the study and director of the Food Production and Public Health Program with CLF.

 “Our study suggests gardeners generally recognize the importance of knowing a garden site’s prior uses, but they may lack the information and expertise to determine accurately the prior use of their garden site and potential contaminants in the soil. They may also have misperceptions or gaps in knowledge about how best to minimize their risk of exposure.”

The analysis was published in the journal PLOS One. Researchers conducted surveys among urban community gardeners and semi-structured interviews with key informants in the gardening community in Baltimore, Maryland. Informants included individuals whose job function or organizational affiliation makes them knowledgeable about Baltimore City community gardening and soil contamination.

“People may come into contact with these contaminants if they work or play in contaminated soil, or eat food that was grown in it. In some cases, exposure to soil contaminants can increase disease risks, especially for young children,” said Brent Kim, MHS, lead author of the paper and a program officer with CLF. “Given the health, social, environmental and economic benefits associated with participating in and supporting urban green spaces, it is critical to [ensure] a safe gardening environment.”

For more information, including resources for urban farmers and gardeners, please visit the Center for a Livable Future’s Urban Soil Safety page

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