Allegheny County Conservation District, Pennsylvania

Staff test resident soil for lead and other heavy metals at the first public outreach event, held in partnership with Grow Pittsburgh.

The Allegheny County Conservation District (ACCD) expanded its Urban Agriculture Program by offering free soil testing and site analysis for community gardens, non-profit farms and greenspace projects in urban areas. Over $120k worth of free heavy metal and nutrition soil testing in lab costs alone were conducted for over 30 distinct community projects. Additionally, the district held approximately 20 outreach events where more than 300 people brought soil samples from home to have them screened instantly for heavy metals. The estimated lab cost delivered from this free outreach service is $14,000.

Separately, the district worked with the Institute of Politics and other partners (Penn State, Grow Pittsburgh, PA DCED and urban farmers) to develop a Municipal Model Ordinance Guide. This guide will address the growing uncertainty in many communities as to the legality of urban ag activities as they become more commonplace. The guide will be distributed to every municipality in the region in partnership with outreach and education events targeting supervisors, zoning boards, code enforcement officials and local advocates and practitioners.

The district provided additional agricultural and other technical assistance to over 12 urban farming projects, which included education sessions on cover crops, soil health, remediation, cultivation strategies, funding, regulatory requirements and pollinator habitat.

Students learn about diversity in the garden and soil health at a district and YMCA “Soil Health and Testing Workshop” at the YMCA Homewood-Brushton Garden.

As part of the project, district staff took a group of summer urban garden students to Detroit to meet with activists and urban farmers from D-Town and Ohana Gardens.


The Allegheny County CD Board committed to funding a full-time Urban Agriculture position and at least one part-time intern or graduate fellow in the years to come. Additionally, the district has received some support in the form of grants from state and federal agencies, non-profits and corporate entities. Continued partnerships with local governments and non-profit partners keeps costs down and ensures collaboration and efficiency. Currently the district has, in addition to its full-time staff member, two part-time graduate interns.

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