Guest Blog: Healing City Soils marks successful first year

The Healing City Soils Project has had a successful first year!

The project, a partnership between the Victoria Compost Education Centre and Royal Roads University and funded by the City of Victoria and the Victoria Foundation, offered free soil testing for heavy metals at 137 garden sites across Victoria and Esquimalt. Samples were collected and analyzed by students of the Royal Roads’ BSc in Environmental Science program, and participants received their soil test results along with fact sheets to help understand the results and best practices for growing food safely in urban soils.

The free soil quality information and workshops provided through Healing City Soils support people who are interested in growing food in their backyards, front yards, boulevards and community gardens. Understanding and building soil health is an important first step in urban food production. With growing concerns over food security and food access, many people are turning to their own backyards and boulevards to grow food for their families, and to establish a thriving and productive urban food garden, there is a need to ‘grow your soil’ before you ‘grow your food.’ 

Soil testing is more important than ever, with the increased interest in food security on the island, the students who conducted the research and testing say.

“Right now, a lot of people are starting to grow vegetables in their own backyards, and because of the history of industry in different places around Victoria, there can be concerns with the soil in some areas,” says James Heron, a student from the Royal Roads research team.

The team’s contribution is significant, says Marika Smith, soil ecologist and Victoria Compost Education Centre executive director.

“This is a fantastic project and we wouldn’t be able to do it without the assistance of Royal Roads and the student team,” she says. “This partnership means we can make soil testing accessible and foster an understanding that in order to grow healthy food there is a need to cultivate healthy soil”

Soil test results from the first phase of the project are now uploaded onto the Victoria Soil Quality interactive online map, hosted on the Victoria Compost Education Centre’s website and available here: This open-access map provides community members with a picture of soil health throughout the city.

Building on the success of our first year, student teams at Royal Roads will complete soil heavy metal tests in the spring of 2017 at residential gardens and farms in the municipalities of Saanich and Oak Bay to expand the data on the Soil Quality map, with a goal to eventually map the entire Capital Regional District. 

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

The Compost Education Centre is a non-profit organization with charitable status providing composting and ecological gardening education to CRD residents.