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I have been told that debris/pollution from the road will find its way into my plants, but I don't know how much to be concerned about this.

We have a nice porch which could be used as a vegetable garden, but it is near a side street. It is, however, elevated from the street by a good 10-15'. Should I be concerned about toxins in my food?

What about a planter that is much closer? My neighbors have a vegetable garden that is set back about 20' from a major road (45 mph), at ground level. Should they be concerned?

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Also consider the probability of drive-by veggie stealing. My parents used to have a garden near the road when I was a kid, and this actually happened quite a bit. –  Doresoom Jun 8 '11 at 20:52
@Doresoom Ugh! sounds awful. Our porch is not very visible from the street, though, so it'd have to be an 'inside job'. ;) –  Alex Feinman Jun 8 '11 at 23:57
@AlexFeinman In the UK if you look where a lot! of Allotments (Community Gardens in the US) are located, they are not in the "best" locations eg Right next to railway tracks... –  Mike Perry Sep 29 '11 at 15:19

4 Answers 4

up vote 12 down vote accepted

The primary concern has historically been lead poisoning, but leaded gas started getting phased out in the US in 1973 and was finally banned in 1995. If your garden is in an older city neighborhood, then it is possible that you've got significant lead levels already.

We have a nice porch which could be used as a vegetable garden, but it is near a side street. It is, however, elevated from the street by a good 10-15'. Should I be concerned about toxins in my food?

The elevation makes me feel that it is safe enough for food production. Actual street-side would be something for flowers in my opinion. I've got neighbors who plant next to neighborhood roads with significant traffic (just on the other side of the sidewalk from the street), and they've been doing it for 20+ years. They've felt no concerns about pollution or toxins when I've asked them.

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Right, I've seen lots of community gardens wedged in between train tracks and city streets. But then again, I don't know how many of these folks die of cancer. –  Peter Turner Jun 8 '11 at 19:09
@Peter Compared to their peers, I bet they live longer because the benefits of fresh fruit and veg almost certainly outweigh minor, slow poisoning from air pollution. –  winwaed Sep 29 '11 at 13:49

I've just moved to a garden next to a main road, which I plan to make very edible. The garden is elevated and there is a hedge, but it was certainly there during the times of lead fumes.

I've heard that fruit trees are good for absorbing toxins and heavy metals into their bark. (book by Alys Fowler) I don't know about other plants though.

I'm definitely going to get soil tests done.

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Another thing to be wary of would be salt if you are in a northern climate where the roads are gritted/salted.

Yes there might be toxins to be wary of - but you breathe those in when you're driving a car anyway. I.e. the risk would be small compared to other risks.

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It sounds like you would be safe from runoff being elevated that much above the street, but depending on the traffic level, you could still be getting fumes and such from passing cars. I would personally plant there, but if you're leery of it, I would get your soil tested beforehand.

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+1 For getting soil tested, peace of mind... But not needed when planting in pot/containers (if potting medium is new/fresh), though could be worthwhile just before harvest time to see if the "soil" had taken in anything unwanted... –  Mike Perry Sep 29 '11 at 15:15

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