Healthy Soil for Urban Farm Production: Building from Scratch

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2019: $13,624.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2020
Grant Recipient: VINES Urban Farm
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Amelia LoDolce
Volunteers Improving Neighborhood Environments


Not commodity specific


  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, urban agriculture

    Proposal summary:

    This project will test a new system for building healthy soil to grow food in an urban environment through the 2 acre expansion of VINES’ Binghamton Urban Farm. The goal of the project is to refine a raised bed system that will be more cost effective than traditional methods, minimize lead exposure risks, and support a productive and sustainable growing operation. We plan to utilize straw bales to give structure to the beds, free wood chips, manure and other organic matter will be buried at the base of the bed in between the straw bales, and a layer of a compost and soil mix capping the bed to create a growing medium. This modified hugelkultur bed will be designed for commercial scale agriculture with the goals of reducing costs, maximizing the farm output, minimizing labor, and creating a sustainable system that will support production for many years. Building healthy soil on a limited budget is a major challenge to growing food in an urban environment, as there is often unsafe levels of lead present or little to no existing topsoil post build demolition. This is the case at the Binghamton Urban Farm. Overcoming the challenge of building safe, healthy soil is essential for urban agriculture to be more than a novelty, to be a real solution to food sovereignty and security, and to protect vulnerable populations from lead poisoning.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project seeks to compare methods of urban farm soil development through the VINES Binghamton Urban Farm expansion process. One method involves the purchase and importation of topsoil and compost, and another focuses on building soil from a raw form of organic matter in a new concept of the raised bed. This could lead to a more cost effective method of developing healthy soil in the urban landscape without the need to import large quantities of foreign soil, while utilizing by products and waste products of urban land management and rural agricultural production.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.