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Food from Chemical Agriculture versus Food from Polluted Cities

Touch the Soil News #341

The concept of a food chain fraught with toxic practices is not new. There are many stories how pesticides and other farm chemicals harm workers, end up in the water supply, pollute the soil and taint the food we eat.

The move to urban food-growing holds many promises and solutions to include things like:

  1. Helping mitigate urban waste heat.
  2. Utilization of grey water for cities facing water scarcity.
  3. Mitigate surface water runoff during rains.
  4. Reduce the distance food has to travel.
  5. Allow folks to translate labor into food (important for the financially externalized).
  6. Promote social interaction and community cohesiveness.

While all of this is good and positive, humans also demonstrate a propensity to pollute their urban environments. Recently, Andrew Meharg, a plant and soil scientist at Queens University in the U.K. published an article in “Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science.” Meharg, opened the dialogue that many of us don’t like to hear, but need to – our city environments are more polluted than our rural environments.

Professor Andrew Meharg warns urban farmers to do some homework regarding urban pollution risk before planting the food you are going to eat. Photo courtesy of Queens University.

Meharg warned that urban farming and food advocates should survey each potential urban food plot for a host of risks. In other words, just because there is a plot of soil in the city, it should not be assumed that food produced on it is safe to eat. Some of the risks Meharg identified include:

  1. Some urban soils are severely contaminated which create food more toxic than from industrial chemical farms.
  2. Air contaminants that lace the landscape each and every day including on food plants.
  3. Contaminated water supplies used to irrigate food crops.
  4. City surface water runoff (from streets) that can contaminate vacant lots used for urban farming.

It is true, that not all urban plots present high-risks. However, a little caution and fore-thought before taking the urban food plunge is not bad advice. Following is an insightful short video identifying the five (5) most polluted cities in the U.S.:

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