Soil Contaminant concerns and alternatives

For my blog, I wanted to go in depth into one of urban agricultures biggest issue, which is the presence of soil contaminants and some alternatives of how we can still continue to grow food when we don’t have viable soil. In many situations, urban soils have been exposed to contamination and degradation due to previous land usage and activities that include industry uses, unauthorized  dumping, construction, or heavy nearby traffic which has resulted in the contamination of that soil. Most commonly, elevated levels of soils have been known to be infiltrated in urban soils which pose serious health risks to not only children, but adults as well (ANR Publication). Arsenic, cadmium, copper, zinc, are also naturally according elements in soils that can be elevated to an unsafe levels due to previous land use. Although relatively little of these contaminants are actually absorbed by the plant, it makes it fairly difficult to even have a successful crop when you have contaminated soil. The most common way a person will get exposed to these unsafe levels of contaminants is through swallowing or inhaling soil dust. So this begs the questions of how we can continue to grow food in urban areas which soil contaminants that may be food deserts or suffer from food security? 

My answer to this question and one of my favorite alternatives to growing food without soil is vertical farming. Vertical farming is something that I have recently gotten into after a lab project of mine was canceled last semester due to COVID-19 where a group of classmates and I were in charge of coming up with a working system that was vertical farming. While in the process, I couldn’t help but think about how easily one of these food systems could be able to be actually function and benefit areas that we consider food deserts or food swamps, which are areas with a high-density of fast food establishments and unhealthy food relative to healthier options. One significant benefit of Vertical farming is space saving relative to conventional horizontal farming. According to NewGeography, the Los Angeles median lot size is just slightly above .15 acres (“The High Residential Densities of California”), vertical farming therefore offers the possibility of providing fresh food by squeezing into urban locations near consumers. A good example of vertical farming is Freight Farms, which has claimed that its system can produce as much food in one year as two of farmland as well as using 90% less water use compared to conventional farming (Breewood 2019). Instilling such a system in food deserts or inner-city communities where fresh food may not be widely available, can only bring positive benefits to said communities. A lot of times, these food deserts or food swamps, are the way they are due to systemic oppression and the lack of real consideration of how limiting ones person access to healthy food will impact other aspects of their life. I think vertical farming can be a viable system in these areas that may not have a good soil or the space available to plant in the ground. These communities have a right to easy, accessible healthy options which I feel vertical farming can provide. 


  ANR Publication 8552 Soils in Urban Agriculture.pdf

Cooksey-Stowers, Kristen, et al. “Food Swamps Predict Obesity Rates Better Than Food Deserts in the United States.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, MDPI, 14 Nov. 2017, 

Breewood, Hellen “Spotlight on Urban, Vertical and Indoor Agriculture.” Resilience, 22 Jan. 2019,

“The High Residential Densities of California (and ‘Wild Wild’ Texas).” The High Residential Densities of California (and “Wild Wild” Texas) |, 2020, 

2 thoughts on “Soil Contaminant concerns and alternatives”

  1. Responder Reminders-

    I would have to agree with soil contaminants being a major urban agriculture issue. However, the cost of vertical farms can be a key fact in the establishment and operation of the farm. Vertical farms have many benefits like year-round crop production, better land use, better water usage, and much more but there is still some factor that should be considered before establishing one.

    Vertical farms operating costs will stem from energy. Most of the energy used is artificial lighting the primary light source for the plant. On average, small vertical farms (facilities smaller than 10,000 square feet) spend $3.45 per square foot with large farms spending around $8.02 per square foot.

    The more interesting aspect of a smaller farm would ability to use of private space like bedrooms, storage containers, garage, etc. Labor is a factor to consider since this will be a recurring expense. However, this can depend on the size of the farm and whether self-employment is an option. Finally, the material cost such as general resources, seeds, and plant nutrients account for roughly 11% of the farm’s budget. In general, Vertical farms can be a unique and efficient alternative to traditional agricultural practices but establishment and operation before implementing a facility.


  2. Respondent
    The first part of the article was written quite well. The author addresses explicitly why going into vertical farming would help by growing food and producing more food that is more accessible to everyone. This is something that has been becoming more popular. However, just like with most new concepts there are some flaws. Climate and environmental scientist Dr. Jonathan Foley explains that there are costs and losses such as electricity that make this not only unsustainable but also inaccessible to the average person. Dr. Foley analyzed Freight Farms in specific where he found that costs per container are up to $85,000 and this would be how much you can spend to buy 10 acres of land. He also analyzed Green Line Growers mini lettuce and according to Wall Street Journal they cost twice as much as organic lettuce heads in the market. There is also an added expense of light and how much light is required to create optimal growth in these indoor environments. It takes 80 kilowatts of energy per day which would equal to 44,000 tons on CO2 per container per year just to run enough electricity to provide light for photosynthesis. There can be an argument made of well they can use solar panels. However, once again while solar panels are better than other sources of energy they are still a work in progress. If a minor crack is present while installing or if it is defective the whole panel must be thrown away. While most of it is made out of glass. The glass used is contaminated with other elements and cannot be recycled for flat glass again. There are also metals used, some of which can only be found in other areas of the world. In one case, China increased the prices on tellurium and made a 750% revenue. Cadmium and telefilm in its elemental form are rare and for this reason can be expensive. They also use elements such as Indium which is already rare and is in competition for other technologies such as flat screen TVs. While the solar panels are made to last eventually they weaken to the point they are discarded which would lead to problems of how to properly dispose of them since they contain cadmium and tellurium which can be toxic. This entry is one that promotes a well intended newer concept. If the “kinks” can be sorted out to where is became less expensive and would be more sustainable and it would be a great step forward.

    Foley, J. (2020, April 16). No, Vertical Farms Won’t Feed the World. Retrieved November 22, 2020, from

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