BioCycle October 2009, Vol. 50, No. 10, p. 4
Slam Dunks For Compost
ISSUE deadlines dictate life in our office. This time around, I just couldn’t stop myself from learning more about the subject matter of the article I was writing. As a result, the entire issue was prepared, and there were three pages left for one of the most exciting articles I have worked on – converting brownfields and vacant lots into highly productive farms and gardens in neighborhoods that lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
The BioCycle “connect” to this topic is use of compost, both to remediate contaminated soils and provide a growing medium. In some instances, raised bed gardens are built on asphalt or concrete; in other cases, compost is tilled into the soil to provide organic matter and plant nutrients.
Each interview included a discussion about compost and how it is integral to creating growing systems in concrete jungles and ravaged soils. Each interview also included compelling stories about how these urban farms and gardens provide fresh produce and income opportunities to residents in neighborhoods where both are hard to come by. There is a job training element for youth, classes on cooking with fresh vegetables and fruit, and enterprise development around selling produce from market gardens.
Another piece of this story is neighborhood reinvestment. Lots filled with rubble and weeds are transformed into productive greenspace, building community pride. The resulting article on page 24, “Vacant Lots Sprout Urban Farms,” only scratches the surface of the information gathered. And there are many more project leads to follow up on which in itself is inspiring.
A running theme throughout the interviews is contamination in these soils, especially lead. Sally Brown, who has done a considerable amount of research and full-scale projects on remediating lead contaminated soils, wrote a companion article in this issue (page 27), “Urban Soil Contaminants And Remediation: A Primer.” Addition of compost to lead contaminated soil reduces the lead availability; adding biosolids compost, primarily those high in iron, actually can reduce bioavailability of lead.
At this point, with my three-page hole in the magazine looming and my office mates sufficiently worn out by my exclamations of excitement, another piece of awesome compost news rolled in. A study by U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers evaluated the effect of cultivation practices for controlling strawberry root rot on fruit quality, antioxidant capacity and flavonoid content. Matted row systems, black plastic mulch and Filtrexx compost socks filled with 100 percent leaf and yard trimmings compost were compared. The findings, to be published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, show that fruit from plants grown in compost socks had significantly higher soluble solid content and sugar as well as higher antioxidant capacities than fruit grown in plastic mulch or matted rows.
The bottom line is that we can argue until the cows come home about why it is important not to dispose or burn the organic fraction of the waste stream. But when urban gardening advocates, city planners and researchers laud the benefits of compost, it’s pretty much a slam dunk. – Nora Goldstein