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Urban farm pushes park soil cleanup

By Alex Robinson

A Flushing nonprofit is hoping to start a soil remediation program this summer that would treat soil in a section of Kissena Corridor Park by planting rice and different types of grass.

Green Earth Urban Gardens is appealing for Community Board 7’s permission to start the project, which will teach high school students how to clean up an acre site near the intersection of 56th Avenue and Main Street.

“It’s a way of getting young people to look at the environment and to get them to think of ideas to fix environmental problems,” said Maureen Regan, president of Green Earth Urban Gardens.

Students will use a process called phytoremediation to clean up toxins and heavy metals that could be present in the soil in the Flushing park, said Regan, who has recruited John Bowne High School students to participate in the project.

Regan first thought of the idea after she realized all of the city’s urban gardens use raised beds. This is because growing crops directly in the ground is not advisable as the city’s soil is largely contaminated with heavy metals, she said. Through her research, Regan found the phytoremediation process, which uses plants to uptake contaminants.

In the proposed project, students will test the soil before they plant rice and different types of grass. They will then harvest and burn their crops before they test the soil again to see how much toxins were absorbed by the plants. Regan chose rice for the project because she has experience growing the crop as her father is a farmer in Guyana.

Half of the site will be used for the phytoremediation and the other half acre will be used to educate students in the environmental testing of other plant materials that could be used in the next harvest, Regan said.

“The new Parks commissioner is very much open to utilizing our parkland and not just letting it sit there. This is a new way of looking at our soil in New York City,” she said.

The program still needs CB 7’s approval before the city Parks Department gives it the green light.

A Parks spokesman said the project will likely get Parks’ blessing if CB 7 supports it.

If approved, the group is going to schedule after-school and summer youth programs, and each session would have at least 15 to 20 students. During the summer, the program would have at least 25 to 30 students. Site preparation would be done in the months leading up to July, when the program would likely start.

As the project progresses, more schools and libraries in Queens will be welcome to participate, Regan said.

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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