The Trainsong neighborhood is one of the most impoverished areas in need of study because of significant groundwater contamination concerns over the years.

The Trainsong neighborhood is one of the most impoverished areas in need of study because of significant groundwater contamination concerns over the years.

by Lisa Arkin

An innovative project that will encourage local gardening and food production has sprouted from Beyond Toxics' Environmental Justice project. My Garden – West Eugene is a collaboration of neighborhood groups, Beyond Toxics, local schools, state, and federal partners, working together to address issues of safe ways to grow local vegetable gardens and public health concerns in the West Eugene Industrial Corridor. The West Eugene area is surrounded by heavy industry and possible sources of environmental contamination. The project came about during the 2011 and 2012 neighborhood canvassing project coordinated by Beyond Toxics and Centro Latino Americano. During those canvassing interactions, many residents in Bethel and Trainsong neighborhoods asked us: is the soil in my yard safe for gardening?

Beyond Toxics has pointed out that while the City of Eugene maintains six community gardens that offer garden plots, information, training, and matching grants to promote growing food, none are located in West Eugene neighborhoods.

To address the inequity of lack of government support and to answer questions about planting gardens, Beyond Toxics will initiate the My Gardens – West Eugene project. We will be working directly with the EPA Region 10 office to test the safety of soils so that we can promote safe urban gardening. The project involves residents themselves collecting soil samples from their yards or gardens, and bringing those samples to a mobile EPA laboratory. Their soil samples will be analyzed for metals contamination and possibly industrial solvents. Results of the soils analysis will be provided to the residents and experts will be on hand to help them interpret the results.

We are also planning workshops and training on gardening, soil amendments and organic methods. One of our advisory board members, Margarito Palacio, who is a local organic gardener and a member of the Huerta de Familia gardening cooperative, will be presenting gardening workshops in Spanish for local residents.

The benefits of urban gardening are well-recognized. According to the U.S. EPA, urban gardening can “provide a local source of fresh healthy food, increase surrounding property values, reduce environmental hazards, create biologically diverse habitats, reduce stormwater runoff, create jobs, promote physical activity, increase community connections, and attract economic activity.”

The My Garden – West Eugene concept offers a way to respond directly to concerns expressed by our local community. Beyond Toxics continues to demonstrate our commitment to achieving environmental justice and promoting non-toxic solutions to healthy living.

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