What’s Cookin’ in Your Soil Kitchen?

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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 >

Brotherly Love and Sustainable Eats

APHA members tour the Weaver's Way Co-op in Philadelphia in November 2009.

APHA members tour the Weaver's Way Co-op in Philadelphia in November 2009.

At the mammoth American Public Health Association meeting last month in Philadelphia, it was easy to get lost in all the meetings, scientific sessions and special events. Still, 50 people made it to a food system bus tour of some of the city’s sustainable markets and urban farms on the opening day of the conference. On the tour organized by APHA’s Food and Environment Working Group, participants visited Greensgrow Farm, the Urban Nutrition Initiative, Clark Park Farmers’ Market, Milk & Honey Market, Weaver’s Way, the Fair Food Farm Stand at Reading Terminal Market and a healthy corner store site.

A diverse group of food system experts, academics, physicians and students from as far away as Australia joined in eager to see the greener side of Philly’s food scene and share experiences from back home.

“It was a natural fit to have this tour in Philadelphia,” said Lynn Fredericks, founder of FamilyCook Productions in New York City, and a member of the APHA Food and Environment Working Group. “We would like to take the opportunity to explore the food systems within the host cities for our APHA conferences, and in the case of Philly, with such a plethora of innovations within their food system, it was an ideal location to inaugurate this concept.” Read More >