Managing soils to increase potential productivity and ecosystem services from urban agriculture
Vacant urban land represents a significant natural resource base in many U.S. cities. Urban agriculture has emerged as a popular land use for these areas and has the potential to provide significant social and ecological benefits to the surrounding communities. The soils of vacant urban land, however, are highly variable and often degraded. Thus targeted assessment and intensive management are necessary to maximize the potential of these sites to support crop growth and ecosystem services.
A number of recent studies from the midwestern U.S. have provided a scientific foundation for the management of vacant land for urban agriculture. Several salient points emerge from these studies. (1) Soils of vacant urban land vary greatly in their quality and potential. (2) Thorough soil testing is necessary to determine the suitability of sites for urban agriculture. (3) Sites that have undergone recent heavy disturbance (such as building demolition) are generally more degraded. (4) Applying compost, produced from urban yard wastes, is an effective practice for improving soil quality at physically degraded sites. (5) Vegetable crop yields from intensively managed sites compare well with yields from rural soils. (6) Repeated applications of compost and amendments can result in excessive nutriet levels in the soils of urban agriculture sites. Taken together these results suggest that if soils are properly evaluated and managed, urban agriculture can enhance the potential of soils to provide ecosystem services in vacant urban land.