Eating fruits and vegetables grown in urban gardens offers many health benefits, but according to a new study, lack of knowledge about planting soils may pose a health threat.
The study from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and featured in PLOS One identifies factors and challenges related to the perceived risk of soil contamination among urban community gardeners. It also reveals that clear and concise information is needed on how best to prevent and manage soil contamination.
Researchers conducted surveys among urban community gardeners and semi-structured interviews with key informants in the gardening community in an effort to characterize urban community gardeners knowledge and their perceptions of soil contamination risks and reducing exposure. Urban soils are often close to pollution sources like industrial areas and heavily trafficked roads. Because of this, many soil contaminants have been found at higher concentrations in urban centers.
While the benefits are far-reaching, gardening in human settings can also create opportunities for exposure to contaminants such as heavy metals, petroleum products, and asbestos, which may be present in urban soils, says Keeve Nachman, senior author of the study and director of the Food Production and Public Health Program with CLF. Our study suggests gardeners generally recognize the importance of knowing a garden sites prior uses, but they may lack the information and expertise to determine accurately the prior use of their garden site and potential contaminants in the soil. They may also have misperceptions or gaps in knowledge about how best to minimize their risk of exposure to contaminants that may be in urban soil.
People may come into contact with these contaminants if they work or play in contaminated soil or eat food that was grown in it, added Brent Kim, MHS, lead author of the paper and a program officer with CLF. Given the health, social, environmental and economic benefits associated with participating in and supporting urban green spaces, it is critical to protect the viability of urban community gardens while also ensuring a safe gardening environment.
Children who grow and harvest their own fruits and vegetables are more likely to eat them, research shows. Couple that practice with nutrition education and students increase their understanding of nutrition and develop healthier eating habits.
A major study revealed that 77 percent of students in environment-based education programs scored higher than their peers across all standardized tests and had higher grade point averages, according to the California Department of Educations School Garden Program Overview.