Monday, February 9, 2009

My Farm

Have you heard of this business -MyFarmSF.

It operates like this: You pay a one time fee ($600-1000), they come in and install a vegetable garden in your yard. You pay them a weekly maintenance fee ($35+/-), they come by once a week to maintain it. They harvest vegetables and give you some or all of the produce. This is a for profit venture. For people who want home-grown vegetables but are so busy they cannot do it themselves, yet can pay for it.

Anyone willing to do this here in NYC? Call it PSA, Personally Supported Agriculture.

What have been people's experiences with the soil in their backyards? I've been doing research on companies that do soil testing for hydrocarbons (like gasoline, benzene, toluene) or heavy metals (like lead or cadmium). Accurate Building Inspectors, also known as the Ubells of The Guru's of How-To on the Leanoard Lopate Show offer these services. They offer many tests, but the charges are real high.

I had some of these tests done 6 years ago for a landscape job I was doing on 15th Street around Park Slope, yet I don't remember the company name, but I do remember that the results told me little of what the compounds meant to a gardener. I ended up excavating much of the fill that was present and replacing it a hundred cubic yards of compost/soil mix from Nature's Choice in Jersey. We didn't grow any vegetables either.

Apparently, a major metal to be on the look out for is lead. Natural accumulations in soil average 10 parts per million. The EPA considers 300 parts per million to be the upper limit of allowable. With lead, its the children we most worry about as it is absorbed more by their guts than those of adults. Fruit (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, etc.) do not tend to store lead. But the non-fruiting parts of vegetables, and leafy greens do uptake and store lead. The upper level of soil holds the most lead. Therefore, any soil-contacting vegetable (like carrots, turnips, radishes) will have lead on it's surface should there be a problem with lead in your soil.

Where does lead most likely come from in your yard. Two places: Old house paint (old renovation debris stored on site or chipping exterior paint) and car exhaust. Of course, lead has since been removed from these sources, but the problem with lead is that it doesn't migrate through the soil. It stays put, no matter how many years are between your soil and the lead contamination.

The University of Minnesota Extension has a page dedicated to soil lead with some suggestions for remediation. A similar page at Cornell.

But I have friends who simply vegetable garden their urban plots. Best we do is see that the lot was always used for a residence. You can do this via old fire insurance maps of NYC. There can be rather obvious signs of potential problems like dirty fill or construction debris, buried rusty auto parts, or that no plants or weeds are growing there, or even that the soil smells "chemically."

I'd love to hear stories of people's back yards. What are they like? What's your soil like? Do you grow vegetables? Would you pay someone else to do it for you in your own yard?


  1. hi Frank-
    Thanks for stopping by my blog and posting some feedback. I say if the whole foods shoppers want to spend their $ on designer gourmet vegetable gardeners, they should go for it! I'm enjoying your blog...your coldframe is definitely the work of an artist.


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