Get A Backyard Soil Toxicity Test, Courtesy Of Soil Scouts

Photos: Nuala Sawyer / Hoodline
By Nuala Sawyer - Published on July 01, 2014.
Want to start a backyard garden, but nervous about potential toxicity and heavy metal levels? Soil Scouts is here to help.   

Living in a city with really old buildings has its perks (they're pretty), but also its downsides (all that colorful lead-filled paint can leak into your garden). If your neighbor recently scraped all that lead paint of their house and re-painted it, chances are that some of those old paint chips blew into your garden. These heavy metals are transferred to the food we grow in our backyards.

If environmental health is your jam and you are ready to dive in head-first into assessing your garden, good for you! This site from the San Francisco Department of Public Health can help you get started in assessing your future garden. 

On the other hand, if assessing lead levels and finding out how to collect soil samples feels too complicated to research solo, you now have a resource: Soil Scouts, the New Liberation Community Garden's latest venture. During the month of July, they'll be collecting and testing soil samples to help neighbors in the 94115, 94117 and 94118 area codes learn about the health of the soil in their own backyards. 

By gathering local samples, they'll be able to roughly map the soil from the neighborhood, looking for similarities and differences in soil structure. Results will be mapped publicly by city block (not address) in order to maintain anonymity of participant addresses. 

Advising on the project is Jennifer Gorospe, who tested 100 gardens in southeastern San Francisco for her master's thesis In 2012. A bonafide soil expert, her website is filled with tips and information for the backyard gardener to use when assessing the safety of their soil. Scary fact: four of the 100 gardens she tested had soil so toxic it was considered "hazardous waste". 

Neighbors Developing Divisadero  describes Soil Scouts as "part of a larger initiative of Neighbors Developing Divisadero to explore the connection between neighborhood revitalization, community-based agriculture, soil remediation, carbon sequestration, and national wellness." 

If you're interested in having their backyard soil tested, send an e-mail to info {at} nddivis {dot} org. For $10 they'll send your sample off to UMASS Amherst for testing, giving you the soil safety information you need to become a healthy urban farmer. 

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