The Lucas SWCD’s Safer Soils project completed case studies analyzing the risk of lead in the soils at five Toledo community gardens, taking the participants through historic site research, aerial imagery, sampling plans, test results and recommendations to address both lead risk and soil nutrient deficiencies. The process and generalized results were shared with additional community gardeners in the city of Toledo through local talks and field days; in the Northwest Ohio region through county meetings and a regional seed swap; and across the state of Ohio at the 2017 We Dig! Community Gardeners Conference in Columbus. In total, the program activities reached approximately 175 people interested in soil health and safety in community gardens.
Gardeners and interested Toledo residents who came to the workshops have been recruited for additional lead and heavy metals testing, which will be provided free through a partnership with Bowling Green State University. The district partnered with the University to offer additional testing because a professor participated in the Safer Soils program and thought it would be a good fit for community service for his science education students.
The Safer Soils program purchased pre-paid, DIY soil testing kits from the University of Massachusetts, which have been offered free of charge to workshop participants. Two science education students from BGSU have attended the workshops and worked directly with community gardeners to explain their test results and possible sources of contamination, and the partnership is a great opportunity to sustain the program beyond the grant period.
The success of the Safer Soils program resulted in the Lucas SWCD Board committing, in their 2017 strategic planning, to maintain the urban agriculture component of the Natural Resources Specialist position. They also renewed their commitment to increasing services to Lucas County residents of urban and urbanizing areas. This allows the project to be staffed at current capacity.
Additionally, the Lucas SWCD and Toledo GROWS secured a commitment from BGSU soils laboratory to continue offering free heavy metals testing to local community gardens as part of their science education curriculum. This allows the program to continue without the significant financial burden of commercial testing fees, which was the second greatest expense after staff costs.
Finally, the program’s outreach work over 2017 has led to increased interest from Toledo residents about getting their soil tested; by the final Toledo GROWS quarterly meeting, nearly 40 gardeners signed up to participate in soil testing, which is twice the number that had signed up at the beginning of the grant period.
Between covering staff hours, laboratory costs and community interest, the Safer Soils program has established a foundation to not only sustain itself, but to grow alongside community gardening in the Toledo area.