Food safety: an urban farming priority

The growing popularity of urban farming has demonstrated that growing safe, nutritious food can be achieved equally in an urban environment just as it can in a more traditional rural setting. Along with this, the same food safety issues affect all farms regardless of the type of area they located in. However, the growing occurrence of urban farming is uncovering new risks and precautions that more traditional rural farming does not.

For example, soil contamination is one aspect of urban farming that farmers need to pay close attention to. As stated in a recent article, beyond biological soil contaminants, urban areas may have significant concentrations of lead or other heavy metals in the soil. Former industrial sites may also have various chemicals contaminating the soil, making it very important for a farmer to know the history of the land and how it was previously used, before produce is grown.

Soil tests for heavy metals are one suggestion the article gives to help urban farmers know the extent to which their soil is contaminated. Creating or building raised garden beds or planting in imported soil, may reduce the chances of chemical contamination of the produce.

Unsanitary equipment is another aspect that urban farmers need to pay particular attention to. In these settings resources may be more limited and tools can be creatively re-used in many cases. However, as stated in the article, anything that produce touches, from picking buckets to harvest preparation tables, needs to be of food grade quality. Though it may be convenient and cost effective to use recycled things, the equipment needs to be kept sanitary with frequent washing and sanitizing.

In the broadest sense, stray animals as well as neighbors and/or homeless people can pose a threat to human health more so in urban farms. The range of diseases stray animals can pose is not to be overlooked especially in urban farms were livestock is present.

Neighbors and/or homeless people expose urban farms to a more diverse set of contaminants than their rural farm counterparts. Unaddressed health issues from these populations can have a dramatic impact on urban farms especially in farms that offer shelter as well as food.  Greenhouses or hoop houses are a prime example, and as the article states, should be periodically checked for evidence of entry and locked to ensure entry of authorized personnel only.

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