McKeesport gardeners, are your fruits and veggies safe from lead poisoning? In December 2020, Grounded Strategies and Women For a Healthy Environment tested home gardens in McKeesport and discovered 83% contained unsafe lead levels.
Free, covid-safe soil screening drop-off will be available for McKeesport residents on Saturday, May 22. Advance registration is required and simple soil sample instructions will be provided to all participants.
Tracy Sheffey has gardened all her life. In every space she called home, there has always been a garden to tend. She takes pride in fostering produce from seedlings to delicious vegetables that nourish her family of five children and nine grandchildren. In her years of gardening, there was one question Tracy had never considered: is this soil safe?
Nearly a decade ago, her family moved to McKeesport and Tracy quickly set to putting down roots in the community and in her new garden. She planted the rainbow and watched eagerly as carrots, broccoli, tomatoes, collard greens, brussels sprouts and more grew. Her family, though skeptical of the time she spent with her hands in the dirt, delighted in the fresh, tasty meals provided by the garden, and Tracy liked that she was saving money on groceries, too.
“Often, we don’t really know where our food comes from or how it was grown. By growing it myself, I thought I could avoid the chemicals and additives,” Tracy explained.
When Women for a Healthy Environment and Grounded Strategies reached out with an offer to test Tracy’s soil for lead contamination through the Get the Lead Out, Pittsburgh campaign, she jumped at the opportunity: “I never thought about what could be in the soil. I just grow and eat it,” Tracy shared. “I like to garden, it’s therapeutic for me. I always just blessed the food before we ate it and prayed we’d be okay.”
Before winter froze the ground, soil samples were taken from Tracy’s garden. A few weeks later, the results shocked her. The soil in her garden exceeded the minimum allowance for lead contamination by more than 75 percent.
After talking through the results, and the hazards of lead exposure, Tracy was connected to a team that built a large, raised garden bed directly on her property and provided safe soil for her to start a new garden. Now, her garden is the talk of the neighborhood.
“I am so grateful for the testing and excited about my new garden. Everyone asks how I got the new raised bed,” Tracy said. “This was gifted to me and I will make sure it keeps on giving. When my garden provides a bounty, I share with neighbors and that’s how it should be. The process was awesome and respectful. I hope more people get their soil tested and start planting!”