Things to know before building an Urban Garden

agriculture backyard blur close up

Urban gardens 

          The popularity of urban gardens has grown scientifically over the pass few years. Urban gardens help provide food security for families who do not have easy access to healthy foods or cannot afford food. With an increase of people creating urban garden they are buying a lot supplies like fertilizers, seeds, and pesticides. What many of these homeowners do not realizes is there are risks of working in an urban garden. Polluted soil and chemical exposers are the most common dangerous health risks in an urban garden. Even using things to help your garden like pesticides and fertilizer can put your health at risk. 


          Soil contaminates and chemicals are part of urban farming. What people do not realize is that their home soil can contain contaminate residue form past land usage. These contaminates are usually caused by human or environmental factors. The Environmental Protection Agency has a list of common contaminated lands. The most common chemical element found in urban gardens is lead. In an article published by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources stated, “ongoing exposure to lead can cause damage to the nervous system and interfere with brain development, along with creating other health problems”. There are other types of contaminates that can be found in urban gardens that can cause major health problems. 

List of Contaminates to be Aware of 

  • Industrial materials 
  • Chemical waste 
  • Hazardous materials 
  • Petroleum
  • Lead 
  • Pesticides
  • Fertilizer
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB)
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)   
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH)

Ways to be Exposed 

          Exposer to contaminates from soil pollution or chemicals can lead to serious health problems. According to the Soil Science Society of America there are several ways how people can be exposed to soil contaminates. The most common ways that a person can be exposed is through indigestion, skin exposer, and inhaling.

          Foods grown in contaminated soil can absorb the toxic material in the soil. Eating these foods from contaminated soil without properly cleaning or inspection can lead to severe health risks. Ingesting contaminated food can cause kidney or liver damages. 

          Skin exposers is another entire point where soil contaminated, or chemical particle can enter the human body. People working in contaminated sites must ware proper personal protective equipment. Skin exposer can cause infections or irritation.

          Soil contaminates or chemical sprays are the most common airborne particles that are caused by wind or human disturbance. Inhaling these particles can caused health problems to the respiratory system affect the lungs or nervous systems.  

What to do before building 

          If you are preparing to build an urban garden in your home here are some things to consider. First get to learn the history of your area and your soil. Knowing the history of your site can help you learn if your soil has an agricultural or industrial history. Second test your soil for contaminates to confirm this site is safe. Soil test kits are cheap to buy and easy to use I recommend buying one. If the tests show the soil to be contaminated and damaged maybe consider replacing the entire soil with cleaner plan soil. Finally while working in the garden with any chemicals or fertilizers wear the proper personal protective gear to avoid contaminate exposer it will keep you safe. There is a lot of benefits of having your own urban garden but make sure you know how to properly manage your garden to produce healthy food options for your family. 


Soil Science Society of America, Soil Contaminants (n.d.). Retrieved November 25, 2020, from

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Polluting our Soils is Polluting our Future (February 2, 2018). Retrieved November 25, 2020, from

Surls R., Borel V., Biscaro A., Soils in Urban Agriculture: Testing, Remediation and Best Management Practices for California Community Gardens, School Gardens, and Urban Farms (n.d.). Retrieved November 25, 2020, from

United States Environmental Protection Agency, Contaminated Land (n.d.). Retrieved November 25, 2020, from

3 thoughts on “Things to know before building an Urban Garden

  1. This article is very informative. I enjoyed the way the content was brought up and approached. It is common for people to become scared of pollution and not want to talk about it because facing mortality is uncomfortable. I liked the way the reader was informed but not alarmed. This is an important method of journalism. Everyday is a risk and we cannot live in fear but we must take the necessary precautions to mitigate our risks. Just like in this article. The author clearly demonstrates a knowledge for safety, how to enjoy an activity without endangering lives (needlessly), and being informative.

    I would have liked to have seen some information on the risks of common building materials added to the article. Pressure treated lumber, commonly used for outdoor purposes, is a common lumber chosen for building anything outside like planter boxes and gardening tool boxes because it can withstand the weather and is less likely to rot. Do the chemicals present in that lumber present a a risk to fruits and vegetables grown in a raised planter bed? What sort of nails and screws should be avoided? Do galvanized or plastic coated hardware hurt or harm? I felt the article was missing particular guidance in this area. Even if the author was looking to abstain from advice, a special warning about this would be a great addition. That being said, I don’t think the absence of this information makes this any less of a great article.


  2. Searchers/Synthesizers
    There are a series of ways to avoid contaminating your urban farm.
    1. Build raised bed,
    -Laying a sheet of landscape fabric under the raised bed will prevent possible soil contaminations. This will allow for the use of fresh soil and compost in a controlled space. However, remember to avoid the use of chemically treated lumber for the raised beds.
    2.Pick your farm location carefully
    -When picking a farm location do your research on the site’s previous history. Avoid building farms near building foundations since Lead-based paint residue is more likely to be found close by. Especially if the building was created before the 1978 lead banned as a paint additive.
    3.Build a barrier to block dust from entering the site location.
    -Fences or hedge as a good option and prevent dust from potentially contaminating the site from highways or railroad pollutants.
    4.When possible replace the contaminated soil.
    -This option can become pricey for some, since the cost of the removal is tied to the size of the site and the amount of material that will be replaced. However, removing the contaminated soil will insurance that non-contaminated soil be used for farming.



  3. This article does a well job at identifying key risk at what a beginner urban farmer might have to deal with. Issues including soils that are contaminated, what those contaminants might do to someone if brought inside a person body. I have person experience from not being able to grow directly from the ground due to soils being polluted. My back yard never properly had a lush green cover instead it was always dry compacted soil. Underneath the surface there were chunks of concrete, glass and other scraps of metals. The only way for me to grow things was to create a raised garden bed. I have now begun growing in the vertical space available to me using drainage pipes that I have hanging from a canopy. When the native soils are not suitable for growing there is always a way to continue growing.


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