Healing City Soils Program

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About the program

The Healing City Soils (HCS) program is a project created by Danielle Stevenson, a mycologist and applied environmental scientist, which runs with the partnership of Professor Matt Dodd, an environmental analytical chemist, and the Royal Roads University Bachelors of Environmental Science Program. 

 

The goal of Healing City Soils is to analyze the health of the region’s soils and create a virtual soil map of the Capital Regional District (CRD) highlighting areas where heavy metals from industrial waste and household pollutants may need to be addressed before growing food. The Victoria Soil Quality map is paired with factsheets and workshops to empower people with the knowledge & skills to grow food safely or heal the soil with compost, specific plants, and mushrooms.

The CEC launched a soil remediation project ‘The Ground Beneath Our Feet’ (GBOF) as part of the Healing City Soils program.

 

Compost is one amendment being tested as a soil remediation method that can be applied by backyard and small-scale farmers, gardeners, and traditional food harvesters and cultivators. This amendment is targeted for low to medium hazardous metals-contaminated soil.
In addition to diverting waste from the landfill, compost : (1) Addresses pollutants in soil that food will be grown or harvested from, supporting local food security and sovereignty. (2) May provide a model for in-situ remediation that reduces the amount of soil that must be excavated and transported to contaminated soil landfills with their associated emissions.
Soil is an important piece of the waste management puzzle. The Ground Beneath Our Feet project and the Healing City Soils program aim to provide resources and services throughout the CRD to connect diverted wastes (compost) with soils needing remediation.
GBOF and the HCS program contribute to the CRD’s guiding principle of promoting zero waste approaches and supporting the development of a circular economy.

Healing City Soils Team

Danielle Stevenson

Mycologist, Applied Environmental Scientist and HCS Program Creator

Matthew Dodd

Environmental Analytical Chemist

Alexis Hogan

CEC Co-Director, Healing City Soils Program Coordinator

Project History

 

Healing City Soils (HCS) is a partnership between the Compost Education Centre, mycologist, applied environmental scientist and HCS Program Creator, Danielle Stevenson, environmental analytical chemist, Professor Matt Dodd, and Royal Roads University Bachelors of Environmental Science Program.

 

HCS is about getting to know the soil beneath our feet, and building community around healing it.  Learning about the soil where we live also means honoring that the South Island is comprised of the traditional territories of the Lkwungen speaking peoples, the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, the SENĆOŦEN speaking communities of the W̱SÁNEĆ Nation, as well as the T’Souke and Scia’new First Nations.  At the CEC we seek to respect, honor and continually grow our own understandings of Indigenous rights and history, and to fulfill our responsibilities as settlers, who live and work directly with the land and its complex, vital ecologies and our diverse, evolving communities*.

 

Ensuring that soil is healthy is the first step to any agriculture project; from backyard growing to community and boulevard gardening. Urban and even rural soils can sometimes contain heavy metals and other contaminants as a result of our industrial past and present.  Potentially toxic soils can be a concern for food gardens as the contaminants may be taken up into or onto our veggies and fruits. Soil testing can be expensive, and results, often heavy with scientific language, can be complex, confusing or disheartening.  Any of these things can create barriers to getting more folks growing their own food and understanding why the health of their soil is vital to local ecosystems, our communities’ well-being, and to mitigating the effects of climate change.

 

The goal of Healing City Soils is to analyze the health of the region’s soils and create a virtual soil map of the Capital Regional District highlighting areas where heavy metals may need to be addressed before growing food. This map is paired with factsheets and workshops to empower people with the knowledge and skills to grow food safely or to heal the soil with compost, plants and mushrooms.

 

*Here are just three examples of many where you can learn more about First Nations communities where you live, see: The First Peoples Cultural Council Language Map of BCNative Land or visit First Nations Land Rights and Environmentalism in BC.


The Ground Beneath Our Feet Project

In 2020, Executive Director Alexis Hogan and Healing City Soils (HCS) Program Creator and Technical Advisor, Danielle Stevenson, broadened the scope of the CEC’s Healing City Soils program to include the Ground Beneath Our Feet pilot: do-it-yourself (DIY) remediation of heavy metals in backyard gardens.

 

The goal of this pilot is to develop plain-language resources and skill building workshops to support community members’ DIY phyto (plant) and myco (fungi) remediation of heavy metals in low-to-moderately contaminated soils using native plants, compost and fungi.

 

Because of COVID, Royal Roads University (RRU) postponed collaboration with CEC in 2020 and 2021 for the safety of RRU students, whose work with HCS often occurs in a laboratory and in the field. This fallow period of the program allowed Stevenson and Hogan, with support from RRU’s Dr. Matt Dodd and 2019 RRU student team member Martyna Tomczynski, to begin work addressing the removal of low-to-moderate levels of heavy metal contamination in backyards, community gardens and traditional food and medicine harvesting sites.

 

In working on how to safely remove heavy metals from soil, using native and non-native plants, fungi and compost, the CEC developed a partnership with the PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱ Foundation who have been actively restoring the first village site of the W̱SÁNEĆ people, SṈIDȻEȽ. In the early 1900s settlers turned SṈIDȻEȽ into the site of a Portland cement factory which contaminated the area’s land and waters. Although remediation has occurred in the seabed at SṈIDȻEȽ, contamination still exists in the soil in the form of elevated levels of heavy metals, such as lead and arsenic. As the PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱ team is actively working with soil while restoring the ecosystem with native plants and working to remove invasive species, which have overrun the culturally significant area, remediation of the soil is an incredibly important aspect of this cultural and community resiliency project.

 

The HCS team has also partnered with a past HCS participant, a Capital Regional District homeowner, whose soil tests yielded high levels of lead contamination in their back yard. Additionally, a small portion of the CEC’s Demonstration Site contains lead contamination from a decommissioned mechanic shop, which used to exist close to our Teaching Gardens.

 

At these three locations, the HCS team—along with support from former CEC Education Coordinator Chris Dufour and two youth volunteers from the Artemis Place Cultivating Reciprocity program—installed three remediation test plots in the spring of 2021. The plots were planted with varying combinations of native plants and one common food plant (coastal sage, woolly sunflower, stinging nettle and lettuce), and common soil amendments: compost and a mycelial inoculant containing arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF). The hypothesis is that these native plants, along with help from compost and AMF, will be able to lessen toxic levels of heavy metals from soil over time, thus contributing to emergent research about local native plants in the role of phyto-remediator. Given the emerging research here, along with the already established benefits of native plants, we hope to encourage more communities to plant native. The HCS team included lettuce in this study to get a sense of how much metal is adsorbed or absorbed into plant bodies, which might be later ingested by those who grow common greens in their home or community gardens.

 

This work will be long-term as the team assesses and reassesses the development of the DIY remediation pilot, its supporting resources, and together, their efficacy as a low-cost, plain language model intended to be shared with our communities.

HCS Resources

A key piece of this project is raising awareness; sharing information to inspire safe and healthy food production here in the city; and empowering people with the necessary skills to build the health of their soil if contaminants are found. Check out these factsheets & workshops with specific information for Victoria residents.

 

 

 

Factsheets

Factsheet #11

Soil Contamination

Getting to know your soil (including how to understand a soil test)

Read the factsheet

Factsheet #12

Best Practices for Healthy Urban Gardens

Learn how to work with plants, mushrooms, and compost to reduce your risk of contaminant exposure.

Read the factsheet.

Factsheet #19

Bioremediation for Urban Gardeners

An introduction to learning about the relationships between native and non-native plants and mycelia and how they are used in remediation processes involving low-to-moderate levels of heavy metal contamination.

Read the factsheet here.

Workshops

Online workshop – November 22, 2022; 5-7PM

Understanding & Addressing Soil Contamination

Learn about heavy metal soil contamination, interpret soil test results, and the best practices for growing food near contaminated soils. Register & learn more here

Online workshop – November 29, 2022; 6-8PM

Understanding & Addressing Soil Contamination

Learn about heavy metal soil contamination, interpret soil test results, and the best practices for growing food near contaminated soils. Register & learn more here


Project Partners & Sponsors

Thank you to our program partners & sponsors Royal Roads University, Danielle Stevenson of DIY FUNGI, First West Foundation, Vancity, and the Victoria Foundation.