Since the first year at our house we've been amazed at the garden's soil quality. Tomatoes grow as high as you can build a tomato cage. Peppers produce more than a family of 4 can eat or freeze. The kale keeps us full of iron all year. And sure, we use organic gardening methods, enrich the soil with compost, rotate our crops, and mulch. But we just considered ourselves lucky to have soil so black and rich, with worms filling every shovelful of dirt.
This year I wanted to know just how good our soil was, so I sent a sample off to the University of MN to get it tested for the basics: pH level, organic matter, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. And I decided to test for lead.
The soil test form said only to test your soil for lead if you suspected it was contaminated. I had no reason to suspect this and assumed this was something the city probably tested for anyways. But I wanted to check on it, just in case.
Well, yesterday the results came back with lead levels 6 times higher than the standard level set by the MN state legislature (which are lower than the EPA's levels) and 15% higher than the EPA's standard levels. They recommend that soil with lead levels above 100 ppm not be used for gardening if there are children helping. My garden level is 600 ppm.
Here's a taste of what I'm feeling: Imagine your favorite activity. Not just a hobby, but something you are passionate about. Something that gets you in touch with your spirituality and makes you feel alive like nothing else on this earth. Now imagine that everytime you've done that activity you've been poisoning your children, your partner and yourself.
Yesterday I was sad and ashamed. I cried for my garden and all the work we've put into it. I cried for not knowing if the lead had already affected my family. I cried for being naive enough to believe that in a polluted world I had my own little safe oasis.
Today I'm mad. Erin Brockovich mad. I'm mad that I've never heard that you should test your soil for lead before even letting your kids play outside. I'm mad that we've f***ed up our earth so much that people can't even grow food in their own yard without trucking in sterilized soil. I'm mad that either the city doesn't test for residential lead or they don't volunteer the information to the person who owns that land. How many of you have tested your soil? Do your kids play outside?
In a way the garden is still a blessing. Without it I never would have even considered testing our soil for lead. And hopefully it's not as bad throughout the whole yard as it is in the garden.
So here are the next steps:
1. Get blood tests for everyone in the family.
2. Test other areas of the yard and re-test the garden.
3. If we have elevated blood levels OR if the 2nd test shows the same level of lead, then we dig up the plants, cover the soil in heavy duty landscaping fabric, build raised beds, bring in clean soil, replant the plants.
4. If the kids' play area is high, too, we'll cover that with fabric and thickly mulch the whole area.
5. We'll enforce strict hand scrubbing rules after playing outside,
super-duper wash anything that comes in from outside and get serious about the "no shoes in the house" rule.
Some slight good news is that plenty of plants don't absorb much lead. And if you have high phosphorus levels, alkaline soil, and high organic matter levels you can further minimize the lead absorption (our soil has all of those). The main concern is with direct contact with the soil, breathing in the dust, and getting it in your mouth via dirty food or not washing hands properly, though- Not necessarily the food itself.
It looks like a lot of changes are coming to our garden, our yard and our lives. I feel like someone let all the air out of my hot-air balloon. Deflated. How do I tell the kids that they can't play in the dirt? What kind of messed up message does it send to tell these nature-loving kids that we can't trust our own soil? Ugh.
Sorry for the biggest downer of a blog post. Here's a sexy picture of Mike harvesting the finished compost: A whole kiddie pool full! (And notice Hannah in the foreground, waiting for 1/2 rotten apples to roll her way). You can see a bit of our compost bin here. It's built out of chicken wire and old pallets from the co-op.
***PS- Maybe don't bring this subject up with me at work or at a party, okay? I'll probably start crying. And you wouldn't want that.