Can the Backyard Gardening Trend Survive Lead?

August 14, 2008 05:56 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
Scientists say high levels of lead in backyard gardens pose a significant health threat, but there are ways for the growing number of home gardeners to cultivate safe produce.

Lead Throws Wrench in Gardeners’ Plans

In response to rising food and gas prices, more Americans are planting vegetable gardens in their backyards, but new lead warnings from environmental officials and scientists could stop the gardening trend in its tracks. 

An article in the Boston Globe reports, “flakes of lead paint from old houses often create a halo of contamination around houses that vegetables can take up.” Leaked gasoline and nearby apple orchards, which used to be treated with lead arsenate, also contribute to higher lead levels in gardens.

Urban backyard gardens are particularly at risk of lead contamination. To combat the problem, researchers have used phytoaccumulators, plants capable of absorbing lead from the soil. Once the plants have matured, they are removed from the garden, lowering the level of lead. Spinach and sunflowers have been effective.

Environmental and health officials encourage people to be careful, but not to stop gardening altogether. Select a plot of land away from the house and test it for lead, and build a raised bed if the level is high, experts advise. There are specific crops that absorb relatively little lead, including tomatoes and squash.

Nearly 22 percent of American households had a vegetable garden in 2007. With proper precautions, lead won’t get in the way of this positive new trend. 

Background: Gardening’s new generation

Prompted by a “shaky economy, concerns about food safety and an urge to reconnect with the land,” a new generation of gardeners has emerged; and many are young, female and urban.

In addition, student-run school gardens are growing in popularity, providing environmental benefits and encouraging students to lead healthier lives. The Samuel J. Green Charter School in New Orleans is just one of many schools across the country implementing garden programs that allow students to harvest fruits and vegetables for cafeteria meals.

Gardens also offer a soothing respite from the classroom, especially for schools recovering from Hurricane Katrina. “I thought it’d be a great therapeutic tool,” said Green Charter Principal Tony Recasner.

Related Topics: Food project; garden hoses

Reference: Gardening advice


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