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Soil Science Society of America
5585 Guilford Road • Madison, WI 53711-5801 • 608-273-8080 • Fax 608-273-2021
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Contact: Susan V. Fisk, Public Relations Director, 608-273-8091,

Urban soil quality and compost

Increasing organic matter, improving soil quality, important for urban growers

NEWS RELEASE: For further information, contact Susan Fisk, 608-273-8091,

October 14, 2013—With higher populations and limited space, urban areas are not often thought of as places for agriculture. A recent surge in community gardens, though, is bringing agriculture and gardens into the cities. And certain byproducts of urban life – food and yard waste and municipal biosolids – can benefit those gardens, and the soils in them, tremendously.

Sally Brown, associate professor at University of Washington will discuss the use of compost and biosolids in urban agriculture on Tuesday, Nov. 5 at 9:35 am. Her talk, Urban Soil Quality and Compost, is part of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America Annual Meetings, Nov. 3-6 in Tampa, Florida. The theme of this year’s conference is “Water, Food, Energy, & Innovation for a Sustainable World.” (

Urban soils can present various obstacles for gardeners. Sometimes, the soils are contaminated, most commonly with lead. Also, many community gardens are built on vacant lots. Because those soils were misused or abandoned, they are often unhealthy and compacted.

“These soils have been treated like dirt,” says Brown. “They’ve been ignored in terms of growing things, and often buildings or cars have been sitting on top of them.”

The U.S. Composting Council recommends that soils contain at least 5% organic matter, a number that soils in many urban areas fall below. The addition of compost and biosolids can raise organic matter and in turn improve the structure of the soil and the amount of water it can hold. Compost and biosolids also slowly release nutrients that crops need.

In addition to making soil healthier, compost can also help decrease contaminants in the soil. By mixing in compost, contaminants are diluted out. And some contaminants, such as lead, often become less hazardous when compost is added to the soil.

“Compost can change the form of the lead in soil so that if you actually do ingest the soil, the amount of lead that’s available to do harm is reduced,” explains Brown.

In Tacoma, Washington, the reuse of a byproduct is already providing great benefits to urban growers. The city provides a biosolids-based soil product to gardeners free of charge giving growers the motivation and tools they need. Since 2010, Tacoma has built nearly 30 new urban gardens. Brown wants to see more cities realize the potential of their byproducts and use them to help residents grow fresh produce close to home.

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Media Invitation: Members of the media receive complimentary registration to the joint meetings.
Contact: Susan V. Fisk, 608-273-8091, Please RSVP by October 25, 2013.

If you would like a 1-on-1 interview with Brown, contact Susan Fisk at the email above.

The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) is a progressive, international scientific society that fosters the transfer of knowledge and practices to sustain global soils. Based in Madison, WI, SSSA is the professional home for 6,000+ members dedicated to advancing the field of soil science. It provides information about soils in relation to crop production, environmental quality, ecosystem sustainability, bioremediation, waste management, recycling, and wise land use.

SSSA supports its members by providing quality research-based publications, educational programs, certifications, and science policy initiatives via a Washington, DC, office. Founded in 1936, SSSA proudly celebrated its 75th Anniversary in 2011. For more information, visit or follow @SSSA_soils on Twitter.