How clean are your greens? -

How clean are your greens?

Urban community gardens are more popular than ever thanks to the "grow your own" revolution.  But recent studies have shown many of these plots are hot beds of poisonous lead that can turn your healthy greens into toxic waste!

According to the American Community Gardening Association, there are 18,000 community gardens in North America and most are on contaminated lots where buildings were demolished.

"The important things to understand when you're trying to garden in a big, urban city is you've got an old neighborhood like this, old house. Whatever paint might have been on that house, that stuff will fall down. Those little paint chips end up getting ground up and mixed in with the soil," explains Linda Kite, director of Healthy Home Collaborative

Old lead paint and residue from years of leaded gasoline emissions have poisoned soil in cities and towns nationwide.

"That lead in that gasoline didn't' magically evaporate. It actually lands on and mixes in with the soil," says Linda.

And when that lead winds up in your salad, it's a recipe for disaster! Elevated lead levels can cause brain damage, heart problems and learning disabilities.

"The important thing to understand about lead in soil is that it actually stays in the top half-inch of soil for thousands of years," says Linda.

That's why Julie Burleigh, who manages a community garden in Los Angeles, asked Kite for advice on how to keep her garden safe.

"We just harvested about 30 pounds of sweet potatoes from this one spot," says Julie.

Linda says root vegetables are among the crops that absorb the most lead, but the solution is surprisingly simple.

"What you want to do if you have any concerns and don't want to spend a bunch of money on energy testing every plot of soil, raised beds are a simple solution," says Linda.

She says winds can blow lead-contaminated soil from other areas onto your plants, so her advice is to put mulch on the ground surrounding the beds.

Putting down organic matter like mulch is a great way to create a barrier between that bare soil that might be contaminated and wherever you're putting your raised beds.

A prime example of safe garden practices is the new Glassell Park community garden in east Los Angeles. It yields enough healthy produce to feed an entire neighborhood.

"If your children are helping you garden, what's really important is to make sure that they wash their hands when you're finished. Wash them thoroughly," adds Linda.

She recommends washing your produce in a solution of two-and-a-half tablespoons of distilled white vinegar to one gallon of water.

"More vinegar is not better," she says. "It's actually less that's going to work for you, and then rinse it thoroughly afterwards with plain water to get any vinegar residue off of there."

According to Linda, lead contamination will be around for generations to come. But by implementing safe garden practices, you can minimize the risks and enjoy all the nutritional benefits of reaping what you sow.

Copyright 2012 America Now. All rights reserved.

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