As urban and community gardens begin to increase in popularity around the world, so has the concern over the quality of the soil found in the agricultural beds. Located on unused city land often near former industrial areas, urban gardens offer local neighborhoods access to nutritious, low-cost produce. For all urban gardeners, one of the most important priorities to ensuring that a garden is safe and productive is understanding the make-up and health of the plant soil in use.
Through a generous grant from the Stark Community Foundation, a group of Walsh Environmental Science students under the guidance of Professor of Biology Jennifer Clevinger, Ph.D., are offering free basic soil testing for pH, Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium for Stark County gardeners. These nutrients can occur naturally in the soil and at the appropriate levels, help to maintain a healthy growing environment. The team is also offering optional free testing for lead and arsenic.
Vegetables, plants and other produce pull nutrients from the ground to grow. Soil nutrients are vital for healthy plants, but unfortunately, toxins such as lead or arsenic can also find their way into the foods we eat and impact the quality of fresh produce.
“One of the demographic groups the Stark Community Foundation has asked us to target is our local urban gardens,” said Dr. Clevinger. “In particular, urban gardeners need to worry about lead and arsenic in the soil from lead-based paint chipping off of houses or garden properties that are close to roads and industries that once used lead-based gasoline.”
It is generally recommended that any soil near structures that pre-dates 1978, when lead was eliminated from house paint, should be tested before being used as a garden. Arsenic can be found in the ground from close proximity to treated lumber. If lead or arsenic is detected, participants are advised to seek further testing at an EPA- approved facility.
The three-year grant began in August 2015 with the training of seven Walsh environmental science majors. For the students involved, the testing provides a real-world application to their environmental lab work.
“This opportunity is not only educational, it is helping the public, and a big component of Environmental Science is community outreach and service,” said Dr. Clevinger. “This free service also ties into Walsh’s ongoing commitment to resolving hunger issues.”
Concern for hunger and food security both globally and locally have been a focus of several Walsh initiatives including the Blouin Global Scholars and Blouin Leaders in Social Justice living-learning communities. Since 2015, Walsh has been a member of the national network of The Campus Kitchens Project to redistribute and repackage leftover food from the dining halls to local community partners. Walsh University has been chosen as the host of the first-ever combined hunger summit by Campus Kitchens and Universities Fighting World Hunger (UFWH) who have joined forces in the fight against hunger and food waste. The two-day summit, “Summit2: One Movement. Exponential Impact.,” will be held at Walsh from March 24-25.
This fall, free testing is available to the 100 gardeners with a limit of one test per family per year within Stark County, Ohio. Community garden coordinators are encouraged to contact Walsh directly about submitting multiple samples.
Soil Collection Protocol: Use a trowel to take five to ten thin soil cores or slices that are 6-8 inches deep from different areas of your garden. Mix these cores together in a bucket and then transfer approximately two cups of soil to a labeled Ziplock bag. The samples do not have to be dry. Please include your name, mailing address, email address, location of your garden, and plant types being grown. If you need the optional lead or arsenic testing please state on your label too, otherwise it will not be tested. Reports will be sent via email (if one is provided). Ideally, soil will be processed within a month with all fall samples completed by the end of 2016.
For questions or additional information, contact Dr. Jennifer Clevinger at firstname.lastname@example.org
Environmental Science is a branch of biology that focuses on the relationship between organisms and their environment. It is a multi-disciplinary field that also includes the study of physical sciences like geology and physics. Environmental scientists study the effects of humans, industry and other sources of pollution on nature and the environment with a goal of finding new ways to conserve and improve the way we use natural resources and energy. More information about Walsh’s Environmental Science major can be found here.