Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Safe Gardening Practices for Brownfields

Brownfields and Urban Agriculture: Interim Guide for Safe Gardening Practices [PDF]. A report of the US EPA, this document is a condensation of the input of 60 experts from academia, state and local government, and the nonprofit sector who gathered in Chicago on October 21 and 22, 2010 to outline the range of issues which need to be addressed in order to safely grow food on former brownfield sites.

Excerpts from the document:

Across the country, communities are adopting the use of urban agriculture and community gardens for neighborhood revitalization. Sites ranging from former auto-manufacturing sites, industrial complexes, and whole neighborhoods, down to small individual lots, including commercial and residential areas, are being considered as potential sites for growing food. As an interim (less than five years) or long-term use, greening a parcel by implementing agricultural practices can improve the environment, build amenities, revitalize neighborhoods, and have direct benefits to residents’ food access and nutrition.

Redeveloping any potentially contaminated urban property (often referred to as brownfields), brings up questions about the site’s environmental history and the risks posed by proposed reuse. Current brownfield and contaminated land risk-based cleanup approaches establish cleanup levels based on proposed reuses. For residential, commercial or industrial brownfield redevelopment, individual states have set rules and standards for how to conduct an investigation and clean-up activities through what are known as Voluntary Cleanup Programs. Residential reuse requires the most stringent cleanup as it assumes children and families will live on the property.
However, the rise of agriculture as infill redevelopment creates new questions about the risks associated with agricultural uses, particularly where food crop or animal forage production is concerned. In many parts of the country, advisory standards and practices for agricultural redevelopment simply do not exist.

This document is designed to fill the identified gaps presented above by presenting a process and set of recommendations for developing agricultural reuse projects on sites with an environmental history. Potential gardeners, state environmental agencies and regulators can use this process to determine how to address the risks inherent to redeveloping brownfields for agricultural reuses while being protective of human health. There is a large body of ongoing research as concern about contamination emerges and urban gardening becomes a common practice, particularly in communities with limited economic activity. This document can be used as an interim guideline until such research can provide more definitive standards and policies for agricultural reuse on these sites. Although the guide was developed in the Midwest, it may be used to benefit tribes and communities throughout the country wishing to utilize urban agriculture on brownfield sites and vacant properties.

-Excerpts from Brownfields and Urban Agriculture: Interim Guide for Safe Gardening Practices [PDF].