Vegetables grown in contaminated soil. What is safe to eat?

During the 2014 Master Gardener Technical Update, Keynote speaker, Lorraine Johnson, advised us to avoid buying root vegetables if we thought the soil that they grew in was contaminated. But are root vegetables the only suspects?

 

Lorraine Johnson 2014

Firstly, let us examine which soil contaminates we need to worry about.

According to Minnesota University Extension and Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture’s pamphlet, Urban Gardens & Soil Contaminants,  “Lead (Pb), Cadmium (Cd), and Arsenic (As) are the main contaminants of concern because of their widespread occurrence in urban environments. Other contaminants may be a concern if the site or nearby properties have a history of industrial or commercial use.”

Vegetables grown in contaminated soil

And it turns out that it is not only root vegetables that we have to worry about if we suspect we are buying vegetables grown in contaminated soil.

Cornell University Extension’s Soil Contaminants and Best Practices for Healthy Gardens pamphlet lists three vegetable groups we shouldn’t buy:

♦ Green Leafy Vegetables: lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, beet leaves, cabbage, kale, collards

♦ Other Vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower

♦ Root Crops: carrots, potatoes, and turnips

vegetables

 

It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t list the vegetables that would be suitable to eat! Suitable vegetables include:

♦ Vegetable, fruits and seeds: tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, okra (seed pods only), squash (summer and winter), corn, cucumber, melons, peas and beans (shelled or cleaned very thoroughly), onions (bulb only)

♦ Tree fruits: apples, pears

♦ Berries: blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries (if cleaned very thoroughly)

But this list doesn’t take into account pesticide use! If we take current pesticide use on vegetables/fruits, I would advice consumers to avoid the dirty dozen:

  • Fruit: apples, grapes, nectarines, peaches, strawberries
  • Vegetable: celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, hot peppers, potatoes, spinach, sweet bell pepper
  •  Kale/collard greens and summer squash (zucchini) also carry a heavy pesticide load.

 

So, as we can see, pesticide use renders a whole bunch of safe fruit/vegetables from the list above as dangerous to eat. Together with soil contamination there is not much left.

 What is the solution?

Find out the history of your soil.

Test your soils and find out the nature of your soil contaminants. 

 If your soil is contaminated, grow in raised beds with clean soil.

 AND

Grow your crops organically to avoid pesticides. Or buy organic. Your body will thank you.  

 


Written by Cristina da Silva
Tuesday, January 28, 2014 in Plants & Soils

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