Healing City Soils

What is this project about?

This project is about getting to know the soil beneath our feet, and building community around healing it. Ensuring the soil is healthy is a first step to any urban agriculture project; from backyard growing to community and boulevard gardening. Urban soils can sometimes contain heavy metals and other contaminants as a result of our industrial past and present.  This is not so great for our urban food gardens as the contaminants can get into or onto our veggies and fruits. Soil testing can be expensive, and the results can be confusing or disheartening, which ends up being a barrier to getting more folks growing.

The goal of Healing City Soils is to analyze the health of Victoria’s soils and create a virtual soil map of Victoria highlighting areas where heavy metals need to be addressed before growing food. This map will be paired with factsheets and workshops to empower people with the knowledge and skills to grow food safely or to heal the soil with compost, plants and mushrooms.

Bridging urban agriculture, composting, food literacy, ecological restoration and bioremediation, this project brings together the municipalities of Victoria and Esquimalt, local post-secondary institutions, food security organizations and people who are interested in growing food and building the soil beneath their feet.

Getting to know the soil where we live means acknowledging and honoring that these lands are the traditional territories of the Coast Salish People of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations. It is an honor to live and work within their traditional territory. To read more about Coast Salish People, see:http://www.firstnations.de/development/coast_salish.htm

For more info about decolonization, see this great article by Harsha Walia:https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/decolonizing-together


What are we doing?

Free soil tests!

Through partnership with Royal Roads University and funding from the City of Victoria and the Victoria Foundation, free soil testing for heavy metals will be available to people growing food in the city, or who would like to start food gardens or food forests on boulevards, in community plots or in their front or backyard. Applications are now closed for soil testing.

Update, July 13th 2016:  Soil samples are currently being analyzed and your individual soil test results and analysis will be emailed to you by early August at the earliest and mid-September at the latest. We will be in touch with you when your results are ready. Thanks for participating! 

Soil health mapping!

We are able to do ~240 free soil tests for heavy metals throughout Victoria and Esquimalt. If you’ve already had your soil tested, please share the results with us at healingcitysoilsvictoria@gmail.com! The soil test results will be uploaded onto an online, interactive map so that even though not every yard in the city will be able to be tested, we will get a picture of soil health (or contamination) throughout the city. That way, potential urban growers can use the map to infer soil health – if a neighbor found lead and arsenic, you can assume your yard has it too.

Factsheets and workshops!

A key piece of this project is raising awareness, sharing information to inspire safe and healthy food production here in the city and empowering people with the necessary skills to build the health of their soil if contaminants are found. We will release ‘factsheets’ with information specific to Victoria about:

  • Understanding soil contaminants
  • Getting to know your soil (including how to understand a soil test)
  • Guidelines for gardeners with heavy metals in their soil
  • Backyard bioremediation: How to work with plants, mushrooms, and compost to address heavy metal contamination in your soil

In the fall, we will have a public forum to launch the soil map and present our findings. We will also offer a three-part ‘Healing City Soils’ workshop series to be held at the Victoria Compost Education Centre.

Project partners

This project is a collaboration between the municipalities of Victoria and Esquimalt, local post-secondary institutions, food security organizations and people who are interested in growing food and building the soil beneath their feet.

Victoria Compost Education Centre (Host organization)

Danielle Stevenson, D.I.Y. Fungi (Project coordination + consultation)

Royal Roads University BSc in Environmental Science Major Project Partnership (soil sampling + analysis)

Student team: Ground Zero Consulting (James Heron, Shawna Cheyne, Michael Rae, Melissa Rektor)

Advisor/Supervisor: Dr. Matt Dodd, Professor

Steeve Deschenes (GIS + soil mapping consultation)

Thank you to our project funders:

City of Victoria- Strategic Plan grant (2015)
City of Victoria- Strategic Plan grant (2015)
The Victoria Foundation-Community Grants (2016)
The Victoria Foundation-Community Grants (2016)

How we’re doing it (methodology)

Students from Royal Roads University’s BSc in Environmental Science program will collect soil samples throughout Victoria and Esquimalt and coordinate heavy metals analysis through their campus lab.

40 soil samples will be collected in Victoria and Esquimalt in 6 selected neighborhoods for a total of 240 samples. The six selected neighborhoods include: James Bay/Fairfield, Vic West, Fernwood, Quadra village, Esquimalt and Burnside/Rock Bay. The samples will be selected from areas that the homeowner has identified as an area of interest for growing vegetation. The land use history will be considered and researched to establish a baseline of potential contamination. In addition, 20 samples will be sent to a professional lab to ensure quality control and additional analysis.

Soil Sampling

At least two surface soil samples from each sampling site will be collected from 0 – 15 cm below the soil surface within the rooting range of vegetation. Soil samples will be collected using plastic scoops, placed in Ziploc bags and labelled accordingly. Sample site details will be recorded in a designated journal. The samples will be placed in a sealed container (cooler) and transported to the Royal Roads University laboratory for analysis. A select number of samples will be shipped to BV Upstream Minerals and Maxxam Analytics for analysis. A chain of custody will be used to document the soil sampling and analysis.

Sample Analysis

The soil samples will be screened using a portable x-ray fluorescence (XRF) for a suite of metals. A select number of samples will then be shipped to BV Upstream Minerals and Maxxam Analytics for analysis by Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS).  The focus of the analysis will be on the heavy metals that have a detrimental effect on human health including arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), chromium (Cr), lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), nickel (Ni) and zinc (Zn). Additional parameters to be analyzed will include bioavailability and soil characteristics including pH.

Interpretation Methods

Results will be tested using the statistical R package or similar software for normality, parametric or non-parametric analysis to determine the variance (ANOVA) between the sites. Microsoft Excel or statistical R package will be used to present the data visually. Based on the results of the analysis, trends in heavy metal concentration will be plotted using ArcGIS software. This will be used to create a virtual map of Victoria and Esquimalt, which will be added to the Healing City Soils website.

Project timeline

***Applications for soil testing closed on April 5th

March through May – soil sampling

June – soil analysis complete

August – online soil map for Victoria complete with soil test results uploaded

September – public launch of the map and community information sharing (fact sheets, forum)

September through November – Healing City Soils workshop series at the Compost Education Centre


Get involved!

Send us your soil test results:

If you’ve already had your soil tested, please send us the results (via email or drop them off at the Compost Education Center at 1216 North Park) so we can include them in this research.

For more information:

Healing City Soils webpage

Contact Danielle, Healing City Soils Coordinator:healingcitysoilsvictoria@gmail.com