Seeking Justice, Eating Toxics: Overlooked Contaminants in Urban Community Gardens

Department of Geography

Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, 3:30 – 5 p.m.

Zoom Link to Meeting

Attendees must have UW ID, otherwise email express interest prior so you can be let in from the waiting room

Over the past several decades, urban community gardens have arisen in diverse and economically compromised neighborhoods across the U.S. as part of multiple environmental justice efforts. Urban community gardens have enabled users to mitigate the effects of many environmental injustices such as the impact of food deserts, nutrient poor food found at convenience stores, and pesticide laden grocery items. While these benefits have promulgated across the U.S., community gardens are also well known to be located in historically contaminated locations in urban landscapes. These landscapes include former brownfield sites, superfund sites, and other abandoned spaces of contamination. Although environmental justice efforts to reclaim healthy food in urban community gardens are commendable, the presence and effects of potentially harmful contaminants is often overlooked as gardens are established. Further, governmental organizations tasked with protecting human health, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, have not established any health standards for urban community gardens. This creates many challenges in determining what is safe in community gardens, and garden managers and users are often unaware of how severe the impacts of contamination may be or how to mitigate its effects. In this study, I highlight the prevalence of harmful concentrations of contaminants in urban community gardens in and near Seattle, Washington that are managed with organic practices. I then present the challenges and barriers to gardening in contaminated spaces. Finally, I make recommendations to address contamination in garden spaces, and call for better regulatory standards and other forms of support to mitigate risk to users.

Dr. Melanie Malone is an Assistant Professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Science at University of Washington Bothell.