What’s Cookin’ in Your Soil Kitchen?



What’s Cooking in your ‘Soil Kitchen’?

There is probably lots cooking but you might not like all that’s on the menu. So if you are an urban agriculturalist in the mid-Atlantic (NYC-Philadelphia-Baltimore-DC) area scratching your head about all this talk of soil contamination, grab a soil sample and head to an upcoming art event.

‘Soil Kitchen’, a temporary art installation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is planned for April 1-6, 2011.  FutureFarmers, an art group from San Francisco, was commissioned by the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy to organize ‘Soil Kitchen’ with support from the William Penn Foundation. Local experts as well as staff of the US Environmental Protection Agency are also providing technical support as this event was scheduled to coincide with the free national Brownfield conference, April 3-5, 2011.

‘Soil Kitchen’ will address a range of issues from teaching about soil, composting, how to collect soil samples and connecting with local food systems to how to construct a wind turbine with found material. Workshops also have been scheduled to introduce low tech and low cost ways to remediate urban soils using permaculture methods as well as tour local gardens.

‘Soil Kitchen’ participants that bring soil samples will be able to get free tests of soil.  Lead, arsenic and cadmium were the metals proposed for free tests (additional elements can create testing interferences).  In cooperation with the organizers, the EPA has arranged to have their mobile lab and staff with two x-ray fluorescence analyzers (XRF) to test soils and provide real time results of soil samples during the conference.

While not the only contaminants of concern in urban (and rural) growing areas, metals, particularly lead, receive a great deal of focus. In Philadelphia, as well as many of our older cities and towns with an industrial past and legacy sites, these concerns may be well founded. Eckel et al reported seven of the eight sites in Philadelphia and Baltimore sampled exceeded the EPA soil screening level of 400 parts per million (ppm) of lead for residential reuse while three exceeded the industrial reuse standard of 1000 ppm lead.

Do urban agriculturalists consider or know of these legacy sites?

Many community gardeners plan and plant raised bed gardens to avoid contamination concerns.  However, larger scale urban agricultural efforts may have difficulties with raised agricultural operations at scale and may need to pursue in-ground growing. A recent Planning Advisory Service report by the American Planning Association on Urban Agriculture, as part of their food system planning efforts, noted many innovative urban agriculture models in the US and Canada. The authors noted there is much still to do in factoring in the potential for environmental contamination or industrial legacy sites as part of planning urban agricultural activities. Read More >