Growing on damaged land
New farmers seeking access to land in the peri-urban fringe often end up with soils that have been poorly cared for. Soils may have suffered from soil erosion, have been compacted and partly sealed, may have been contaminated, etc. The Agroecology Lab of the Université Libre de Bruxelles built together with farmers a guide to make a simple assessment of the soil, starting from easy and accessible techniques that can be executed by growers themselves. The guide is distinctively built to work with living soils: rather than overly focussing on chemical composition, the guide is geared towards observing and enhancing biological activity, the soil’s structure and its water retention capacity.
Care for damaged soils is an integral part of an agroecological urbanism. While valuable soils should first of all be protected against the pressures of urbanisation, the conversion of land that was temporarily not cultivated has an important role to play as well. The rebuilding of top soils on such damaged lands should not be an individual responsibility of growers and could be facilitated. Farmers should be given time in which they can work on these lands without economic pressure and with the secure prospect of long leases in order to encourage long term care for the soil.