Is it safe to grow food in my yard?

Q: I live in a big city. Is it safe to grow vegetables in the soil of my backyard?


If you’re concerned about contaminants in your soil, growing vegetables in raised beds with commercial topsoil can be a great solution. Photo: Kate Kurtz

A: While it’s likely safe to grow vegetables in the soil in your yard, adding composts or other soil amendments high in organic matter will offer both additional protection from any contaminants that may be in your soil, and help you to grow bountiful quantities of lettuces, tomatoes, and any other vegetables.

If you’re concerned about contaminants in your yard, you can also send your soil out to be tested. You will want to have it tested for lead, and most soil testing laboratories will test for “available” lead. If your levels are high or if you’re just worried in general about contaminants, a great solution is to grow vegetables in raised beds, rather than planting them directly in the ground.

Incidentally, all soils will have some lead from sources such as chipped lead paint and the leaded gasoline of the past. So the question becomes: how much lead is there and is it really dangerous? The main threat people face from lead in soil comes from eating the soil. Little kids may do this on purpose, but most commonly it happens when people’s hands get dirty from working or playing in soil. The best thing you can do if you are concerned is to make sure you and your family wash your hands after working or playing outside and always before eating.

For more information on lead in soil and how to garden safely in the city, visit:

–Answered by Sally Brown, University of Washington, and Kristen McIvor, Pierce Conservation District, Tacoma, WA

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