By: Woody Wilson, co-Founder
Have you seen that bumper sticker? It is a nice phrase that organic farmers and gardeners like to throw out at a dinner party to start conversations about their vegetables. But for gardeners in post-industrial cities, the phrase is more of a warning than a battle cry.
Gardeners in the city have to think about the safety of their soil before planting into it. Lets face it, before environmental regulations were a thing, what is now your backyard may have been a convenient place to dump leather tanning chemicals one hundred years ago. Also, like the houses of that day and age, many of those chemicals were built to last.
When planting a garden directly in the soil in the city, it is very important to know the history of your lot. Has it always been residential? If so you may be safe. Was your row home formerly a dry cleaner? Probably not the safest place to plant. Live near a railroad? Definitely do not eat what you plant.
The EPA and the Philadelphia Food Policy Advisory Council both suggest using “above soil growing” i.e. raised beds, when growing in soil that has not been tested for contaminants. Basic soil testing is relatively cheap, but tests for metals and chemical compounds get expensive quick. If you are a temporary renter, without time to check the property records of your block at City Hall, then a patio garden with elevated beds is the right choice for you.