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Re: CG zoning and soil test

  • Subject: Re: [cg] CG zoning and soil test
  • From: "Maria B. Pellerano" <maria@rachel.org>
  • Date: Tue, 27 Jul 2004 07:02:30 -0400

Hi all,

This is long but worth reading.

Funny you should mention soil testing.  We are in the middle of testing and
retesting the soil in our garden for lead.  New Brunswick has very old
housing stock -- almost all of it was built prior to 1978 (last year lead
was "allowed" in paint).  This garden was a started as a joint effort
between Rutgers and a community organization.  Rutgers slowly worked its way
out and now the community organization manages the garden for the city.
Before setting up the garden Rutgers did a soil test for lead.  They took
one composite (10 - 15 subsamples mixed together) sample and tested it for
lead.  The soil showed "background" levels at 55 ppm.  So the amending and
growing began.

This year Rutgers (same group that helped start the garden) embarked on a
soil testing program before giving training and plants to low income folks
to start their own small gardens as part of an U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) grant.  The lead levels were often much higher, Usually 500 -- 
700 ppm (parts per million).  The EPA/NJ Department of Environmental
Protection (DEP) standard for residential soils is 400 ppm and it is
recommended that you do not grow anything in soil with 256 ppm.  I started
to get concerned about the garden because it has a deteriorating house on
one side of it and there is a lot of uncontrolled demolition that goes on
throughout the city.  So I asked the Rutgers group to check the garden again
this time looking at the roof drip lines of the abutting properties and
areas in the back where there has only been ivy and poison ivy.  The soil
tests showed levels of lead 500 -- 800 ppm.  The plots were still 55 ppm.
So guess what -- the garden is closed to kids now.  There is a concern that
the samples were improperly taken and might be affecting the results.

Yesterday I met with the soil scientist from Rutgers and we are going to
divide the garden into 60 rectangles and take samples at each corner of the
grid.  This way we can see if the lead diminishes as we go away from the
perimeter.  We may combine some of these samples for composites and will be
sending split samples to two labs (two tests from the same sample) to see if
we get similar results.

I was heartbroken the day I had to close the garden to kids.  Most of the
kids in this neighborhood do not have safe places to play.  By safe I mean
not in the street.  When adults are in the garden we often have 10 - 15 kids
in there -- they love to plant, weed, and water.  On the other hand if one
child gets poisoned I wouldn't be able to live with myself.  Our kids
already have high rates of poisoning.  The national average is 2.3
micrograms/deciliter (mg/dl -- blood lead concentrations), our state is
around 3 mg/dl and New Brunswick is 5.4 mg/dl.  It is mostly from lead dust
in the houses from old paint but it is also from products that people use
from their home countries.

I am actually pretty sure kids haven't been poisoned because our perimeter
area has always been covered with grass and the back area with ivy and
poison ivy (we started to remove it two weeks ago).  The way kids get
poisoned in the garden is by getting the soil on their hands and putting
their hands into their mouth.  That is actually how they mostly get poisoned
in general from lead dust around the house.

Soil testing is not terribly expensive.  Rutgers charges $10 per sample to
the general public.  They are charging us $5 because they are being done for
another Rutgers department.  The lab we will be using to send the split
samples charges $12 per sample plus shipping of the samples.

If anyone wants to know about the health effects from lead poisoning, send
me an E-mail and I will send you material.

So what will we do to try and keep the garden open if we find that the
second round of samples have similar levels of lead as the first?  We will
follow the prescriptions in the lead safe yards program -- see
http://www.epa.gov/region01/leadsafe/tool2.html .  We will raise the garden
beds 12 inches and amend them with "clean" material.  I want to try and get
the numbers down there as well.  We will plant the perimeter of the garden
with shrubs so that kids can't play there.  We will make sure that grass
covers all non-garden areas and we will continue to test to see that our
work is making a difference.  We will also push to get a tap in the garden
and set up a washing station so that the kids wash their hands more.  Of
course we have to present this plan to the city and hope they won't shut us

Just so you know leafy green vegetables and root vegetables take up more
lead than fruiting vegetables.  That is why you should never plant in more
than 256 ppm.

As you can see I am immersed in lead at the moment.  I have been working on
this problem as part of my job for years.  I am an active member of the New
Brunswick Lead Coalition, which is a city wide group trying to reduce those
lead poisoning numbers.

If anyone has specific questions I am happy to answer them.

I can't stress enough that if you haven't tested your garden for lead and
other metals you should do it.  It doesn't take much lead to poison a child
(a chip of paint about the size of a pin head will poison a child under 6).

I would be interested in knowing of other gardens that have faced and
overcome this problem.

-- Maria

Maria Pellerano, Associate Director
Environmental Research Foundation
Rachel's Environment & Health News
P.O. Box 160, New Brunswick, NJ  08903-0160
Phone: (732) 828-9995; Fax: (732) 791-4603
E-mail: maria@rachel.org; Web site: http://www.rachel.org/
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Don Boekelheide" <dboekelheide@yahoo.com>
To: <community_garden@mallorn.com>
Sent: Tuesday, July 27, 2004 12:04 AM
Subject: [cg] CG zoning and soil test

Hi, all,

Just back from a great week in Vermont, saw an
interesting garden at Bennington College. Fantastic
music, too.

On zoning, then on soil testing:

There is no earthly reason why a community garden -
particularly a 'typical' small (1/2 acre or less)
allotment garden - needs to have agricultural zoning.
That's doubly true if the garden is managed
organically. The reason is simple: most community
gardeners use familiar customary techniques common in
areas with residential zoning. They are the same
activities, same products and same equipment used by
residential homeowners in their front and back yards
(products and equipment sold in any big box garden
center). Essentially, most community garden and
greening projects provide a 'yard' for people without
access to land or who prefer gardening in a group
setting. 'Agricultural zoning' set up for large
agribusiness fields or livestock operations is
completely inappropriate in this context.

Part of the problem here - and it may represent an
important area for ACGA education activities - may
have to do with planners who have no experience with
community gardens and greening projects, who have not
learned about them in their college programs, and who
have very limited knowledge of what community
gardeners actually do. These planners want to be
'safe', but by the logic they follow, every backyard
or balcony tomato plant would require agricultural
zoning. Besides, chemical use, pollution and noise
generated by conventional residential lawncare are
much closer to agribusiness activities and problems
than most community gardening practices.

So, good luck educating your planning staff.

One caveat: A larger (> 1/2 acre) urban farm or
greenhouse project might in fact be appropriately
zoned agricultural, depending on how you manage it
(organic or not; intensive production or more

Soil testing can mean two quite different things. For
nutrient management and pH, a periodic 'agronomic'
soil test helps gardeners know the proper quantities
of fertilizer, lime and organic matter to add, instead
of guessing. These are not terribly expensive and they
are worthwhile, in my opinion (more expensive
'biological' soil testing is also available from 'soil
food web' and others, and it's great if you can afford

In urban areas, it doesn't hurt to test for dangerous
materials in the soil, such as lead or industrial
chemical residues. These are very different
'environmental toxicology'  tests, and more expensive.
But, yeah, they probably are a very good idea if you
are going to put garden on a vacant lot in the middle
of the city. They don't need to be repeated in most
cases, since they are intended to help you decide if
you need a different garden site, or need to use a
'non-traditional' approach such as growbags.

Good luck!

Don Boekelheide
Charlotte NC


Hi Robin -


The City of Beaverton, Oregon opened its third
community garden this
year and one of the primary issues we had to work
through was that of
zoning.  Our garden spot was located in an area zoned
"high density
residential" which did not go over well initially with
the planning
staff.  Ultimately it was determined that a "garden"
was essentially a
type of park or green space that was allowed in that
type of zone.  We
did have to go through several months of work and
permitting, but
ultimately had it approved.


Auxiliary Services Program Manager=20
Office of the Mayor=20
City of Beaverton=20
P.O. Box 4755, Beaverton, OR 97076=20
Office: 503.526.2217=20
Fax: 503.526.3730=20

-----Original Message-----
From: community_garden-admin@mallorn.com
[mailto:community_garden-admin@mallorn.com] On Behalf
Of markstanley
Sent: Tuesday, July 20, 2004 2:04 PM
To: community_garden@mallorn.com
Subject: [cg] zoning/permits for community gardens


I live in a small town in the foothills of Northern
California.  Our
church wants to create a community garden on property
that is zoned
residential.  Does anyone have any information on
zoning practices for
community gardens?  Our planning department says it
has to be on
property zoned agricultural. (There is a great deal of
in the county.)


Thank you,

Robin Stanley=20

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