Fri, Apr 11, 2014 By:Ryan Schnurr of IN|Fort Wayne
The practice of urban gardening, or urban agriculture, in which food is cultivated in urban areas on plots of land or in large containers, is becoming increasingly popular. For many, this is a move toward sustainable urban living and community-building; and for others it’s a way to circumvent socioeconomic barriers by providing fresh fruits and vegetables — sometimes even meat — to those with limited access (we’ve written about this previously here).
But there’s another barrier in place in some communities, including Fort Wayne, that can spoil this venture: toxic soil.
“It’s food we’re dealing with, and people’s health, so we take that pretty seriously.”
Many open plots in Fort Wayne used to have buildings on them. When the buildings were removed and the basements filled in, toxins like lead and gasoline were often left in the soil. This is bad for the cultivation of edible plants because these contaminants could show up in the food.
These Young Urban Homesteaders are out to fix this.
Healing Urban Ground is an initiative to purchase some of these vacant parcels from the city of Fort Wayne and remediate, or “heal,” them. The conventional method, Carroll said, is to excavate the land and extract the toxins. This can cost tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the property size. But he and Arney believe there’s another, cheaper way: phytoremediation.
Organizing raised beds in a strategic pattern allows the Young Urban Homesteaders to coordinate plant rotations. Walking paths provide easy access between sections.
Phytoremediation, which literally means healing with plants, is a process in which certain plants are used to remove toxins from the ground. Sometimes a plant will break down the toxin right in the soil, and other times it will “soak up” the toxin. When the plant is removed in the latter case, the toxin goes with it.