The Impact of Local Anthropogenic Activities on Soil Health Within A Retired Farm: Implications for Urban Gardens

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



Many Americans are turning to private food gardening for food access and affordability. A report by the National Gardening Association (2020) reveals a notable increase in food gardening in the past decade among urban households, especially millennial households. These national trends reflect an increasing interest in healthy living, sustainable gardening practices, and mitigating food insecurity within communities. Despite these positive trends, little is being done to assess soil health, especially for soils utilized for private and community gardens. Soil contamination can harm the health of those who use contaminated soils for food gardening. Thus, this study investigates soil health within a retired farm that is situated in close proximity to a firearms range and a county highway department.

Fifteen soil samples were collected from the farm’s garden plots and analyzed for heavy metals (e.g., Pb, Zn, Cr, and Cu) using a Bruker CTX benchtop XRF unit. Elemental analyses of these soils reveal variable, but low concentrations of Pb (37 - 189ppm), Zn (119 – 382 ppm), Cr (27 - 81 ppm), and Cu (24 - 70 ppm). These heavy metal concentrations are significantly below EPA-defined thresholds, indicating that the soils pose no immediate health concern to gardening. However, many of the samples yielded Pb, Zn, and Cu concentrations that are elevated relative to local background values. The soil samples closest to the road, firearms range, and the highway department facility contained the most elevated concentrations, suggesting that proximity to local anthropogenic activities can negatively impact soil chemistry and jeopardize soil health for gardening purposes.


Poster available in the Annual Student Research Poster Session collection.