Letters to the Editor

Garden caution

February 10, 2012


To the editor:

While fully supporting the idea of city-owned gardens (Journal-World., Feb. 7), I must offer some caution on the implementation of this worthwhile scheme. Cities are the sites of nucleated activities, many of which result and have resulted in high depositions of contaminants, including a host of heavy metals that are incorporated in plant reproductive parts (the parts that we eat).

These chemicals are not evenly distributed over the urban area. Therefore, one must conduct a land use historical study to see what might be deposited on site, a quantitative chemical analysis of the soil within the rooting zone and an assessment of which crops would be affected by the uptake of the demonstrated pollutants. We don’t want to poison our children for a good idea poorly applied.


Ron Holzwarth 4 years ago

This letter reminds me of a couple things. One of them was something really bad that was going on in Russia some years ago. Maybe it is still going on, I do not know because I have not read any news about it for years now.

After the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986, a large area of agricultural land was deemed unfit for habitation or to grow anything because everything there and anything that was grown there was very radioactive.

The Russian government did not forcefully evacuate all of the area, and so a few older people that were not terribly close to the disaster site were allowed to stay. They had no place else to go.

Of course, they continued to grow fruits and vegetables, supposedly only for themselves. They were not allowed to sell their radioactive produce in the open market.

But it is very different there than it is here in that many people buy produce in what we would call a farmer's market, that is very common there.

In a sweep one time, it was discovered that there was radioactive fruits and vegetables from the contaminated site being sold, and the purchasers had no way to know where what they were buying came from. The result of that was that hundreds, if not thousands, of Russian citizens were eating radioactive fruits and vegetables without knowing it.

Of course, we won't have that problem in Lawrence. What would concern me the most would be lead contamination. Lead can be found in many locations, and it's been claimed that lead poisoning was a large part of the reason that the Roman Empire collapsed.

The reason for that is the wealthy in ancient Roman times used lead in cosmetics and for many other purposes because it does have some desirable properties and it is a metal that is very easy to work with. They had no idea what the effects of using it would be, or why so many wealthy people were getting so sick.

The ancient Romans had plumbing. The metal they used for almost all of their plumbing was lead, which they called plumbum. And what a coincidence it is that the name of the element lead is Pb, atomic number 82.

Ragingbear 4 years ago

It's the toxins and heavy metals that give the veggies their flavor.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years ago

I had to laugh on that one! Pass the salt, please.

Ragingbear 4 years ago

It's the metallic oxide salts that are in our water supply and in our oxygen supply that produce a rainbow effect in a sprinkler.

introversion 4 years ago

several points to make here:

Firstly, yes, adequate soil testing is a great idea. It's too bad that there are no federal regulations requiring this of the enormous commodity farms in our country that fill our children with corn. We have no assurances that their product is safe; we don't even know where it comes from most of the time.

Secondly, along the same lines, we do know where this produce will be coming from. If you don't wish to consume it, it is absolutely your right not to do so.

Thirdly, with regard to Russia's radioactive produce, and Rome's lead problems, I trust you all realize that our own American commodity produce is regularly sprayed with chemicals that have LD ratings, which, for those of you who haven't brushed up on your chemistry for a while, stands for "Lethal Dose." I've heard of Monsanto reps drinking roundup before as a demonstration of its harmlessness. I've also seen high-ranking agricultural professionals in our state squirm when telling me that story.

Fourth and finally, another major undoing of the Roman Empire was their lack of understanding of soil health. They would produce food in an area until the soil was depleted, and they would be forced to take more territory in order to regain access to fertile soil. Lets be thankful, regardless of Rome, Russia, or any "what if" scenarios, that the people in our community have more respect and understanding for the soil we steward.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years ago

We have the advantage of history to look back at. I certainly hope that more people become more aware that there's a lot of things that we are mislead about, and many more things that no one knows about - yet!

gr 4 years ago

"Firstly, yes, adequate soil testing is a great idea."

You better say what you meant with that because "soil testing", as what is commonly meant, has nothing to do with safety.

introversion 4 years ago

"adequate soil testing," (entertaining briefly the notion that Lawrence soil is somehow unreasonably unsafe) would infer testing it for whatever one might be concerned with. When we test for nutrient content, it's because we're unsure of that. If we're unsure about chemicals, one should probably test for chemicals. I guess I felt it was a given in the conversation that people would not assume that nutrient testing would reveal anything about contamination, just as contamination testing would likely not reveal much in the way of nutrient deficiencies.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years ago

It is best to not assume anything in this forum.

gr 4 years ago

"Cities are the sites of nucleated activities, many of which result and have resulted in high depositions of contaminants, "

Wow, Billy, just wow.

Nucleated: To form into a nucleus. To serve or act as a nucleus for. To provide a nucleus for. A salt of a nucleic acid.

Not sure what definition you intended. Probably not intending a nuclear radiation site. I'm not familiar that Lawrence had many of those.

"including a host of heavy metals that are incorporated in plant reproductive parts (the parts that we eat)."

Another wow. You seem to imply the metals are ONLY incorporated in the reproductive parts. And that would be the stamens and anthers? Probably not what you intended.
Do no one eat the non-whatever-you-mean-by-reproductive-parts? Just wow.
Are heave metals incorporated in plant any parts? Probably some. Depends what you call a metal. Calcium, phosphorous.... What is heavy?

"Therefore, one must conduct a land use historical study " Yeah. We need to make sure to get government permission (and pay a fee of course!) to do anything. For, the government's purpose is to harass and harm people. For their own good, of course.

"We don’t want to poison our children for a good idea poorly applied." Ha, ha, ha. That's a good one.
Better look in the schools' cafeterias and hallways.
Then look in the city's water supply. The health department. The promotion of unhealthy substances. But instead, you caution about fresh produce. Bad is good, good is bad. Seems like there was a book written about things like that.

frenchsoils 4 years ago

This comments list has found its way onto twitter and across into Europe and I find myself feeling the need to argue against this critique of M Woods' letter.

The phrase 'nucleated activity' is precise in describing a concentrated range of human activity in a relatively small urban area. Post industrial activity, even very small and often accidental incidences pollute soil with a range of heavy metals, (from excessive quantities of copper, zinc etc through to real nasties like cadmium). regretably such heavy metals remain in urban soils, usually close to the surface and can concentrate in the fruiting bodies of plants, which are then eaten and further concentrated.

From historical tippage of a can of paint or diesel, through to post factory dumps and most common where tyres have been burnt, there is clear evidence of such in some urban fruits. Worst still is the toxic aquifer, where a level pan of soil, or sub surface infrastructure has created a zone of concentrated liquids where diseases, fungal and bacterium are in abundance and are known to affect fruiting bodies.

Getaroom 4 years ago

All fine and well and sure soil testing for harmful contaminants is a lovely idea. Perhaps Mr. Woods, in showing his loving support, would be pleased to pay for that as donation to our community? Mr. Woods, are you aware that there are already community gardens here and have been for years and of course there are hundreds more family and individual food gardens all over Lawrence. The potential issues you put forward make it seem as if you believe that no one has ever considered this alarming danger lurking in the soil of local "community" gardens, prior the short mention of it in the LJW. As a previous commenter has already pointed out, Corporate farmers have been spraying harmful chemicals and using artificial fertilizers for years and still do. Unfortunately, millions and millions of people eat these foods daily, I bet you do too. Why then, not a letter to those entities as well, to serve the common good? It seems unusual that you would pick this particular time and occasion to mention and focus on this topic, is it because you fear the homeless will use the gardens as a toilet? Doubtful. And speaking of kibitzing on kibbutz's, Ron Holzwarth, launching into Russian reminiscences about nuclear contamination, that may be better suited for a travel memoir than in making reference to a local community garden project in Lawrence, Kansas. Quiet a reach. Now onto settling all this recycling and trash service business or ,"tyranny", as one blogger "Snap..." calls it. Bigger fish to fry.....

Richard Heckler 4 years ago

Unless these sites have been sitting fallow for 3 years or more the crops cannot be necessarily "organic". If they are park department grounds and maintained as such toxic pesticides could be an issue.

If any of the above are concerns there are alternatives that can be applied to these new plots

Hay Bail above ground gardens Meanwhile:

Think about a one time investment in self watering container(s) gardening...



These work very well:


Dirt will not work well in planters but there are plenty of clean planting mediums that can do the job and can be revived year after year.

Sunrise,Cottin's Hardware and Vinland Valley nurseries can help.......

If soil is awful buy some straw bales to create large raised beds to form circular,square or rectangular beds. Real live top Soil would likely do well in this situation. Old windows can lay over the top for heat generation and frost protection. Old window screens across the top to protect from sun or hail.

Enjoy the food...

Richard Heckler 4 years ago

Tons of old wine bottles or beer bottles can also function for above ground raised beds,concrete blocks,old bath tubs etc etc etc.

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