Building Groundwork Somerville’s Soils!

The Urban Agriculture movement is growing rapidly across the country, with city residents becoming as interested in vegetables gardens as they once where with ornamental landscapes. Community gardens are expanding and experiencing waiting lists and non-profit organizations such as Groundwork are working to develop jobs for youth in this emerging field. It is an exciting positive thing to be part of this new Green revolution, but there are questions that need to be asked.

All city gardening requires healthy productive soil. Where does the soil come from? What will happen to it over time, as plants are grown and soil nutrients used up? Will city pollution affect the soil over time? Is urban farming really sustainable? Can we farm in a way that helps address climate change? Groundwork Somerville is at the forefront of the effort to answer these questions. We have recently entered a soil science study in partnership with the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) funded by a Mass Department of Agriculture (MDAR) grant.

Groundwork will be building test plots at its South Street Farm, located near Union Square Somerville, to study organic soil management and cover cropping techniques over a three-year period. The results will help us learn how to better maintain and increase the growing capacity of our farm and allow Groundwork to use the knowledge gained to improve the soil across the city of Somerville, including the 8 schoolyard gardens it manages with in Somerville public school system. In addition to increasing the productivity of our farm we will be looking at farming carbon. By using sophisticated cover cropping techniques and careful soil nutrient management we will increase the activity of beneficial microorganisms in our soils called mycorrhiza, binding carbon the leading cause of climate change into the soil. We have a lot to learn as an organization as we incorporate these techniques into our programs but are excited by the challenge and look forward to teaching this to the next generation through our Green Team Program and sharing the knowledge with the larger Somerville community.