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Towards a self-sustaining community: Assessing soil health in the Corpus Christi community to inform community agriculture and gardening strategies through a comprehensive soil monitoring system and the potential need for natural soil remediation techniques.

Corpus Christi, Texas

Featured image for the project, Towards a self-sustaining community: Assessing soil health in the Corpus Christi community to inform community agriculture and gardening strategies through a comprehensive soil monitoring system and the potential need for natural soil remediation techniques.

The goal of this project is to assess potential soil contamination from industrial pollution in the area. The project focuses on the Hillcrest neighborhood in Corpus Christi and other areas of interest including: Hillcrest Park, Oak Park, Carroll Lane Park, Wilmot Park, Tom Graham Park, and a small farm that sells at the local farmer’s market. The community is interested in soil health to inform community agriculture and gardening practices and to better understand how potential contamination impacts children playing in these areas. We will use comprehensive soil testing to determine what contaminants are in the soil. Initial testing will be based on existing literature and air and water monitoring data from the community and will inform a strategy for setting up a long-term soil monitoring system in the area. The monitoring system will be managed by the community after the project ends. We also seek to employ natural soil remediation techniques to reduce the negative impacts of soil contamination on the community, if needed.

In partnership with the Indigenous Peoples of the Coastal Bend, AGU presents a documentary about a Thriving Earth Exchange project in Corpus Christi, Texas. The region has long dealt with increased industrialization that has impacted the environment and worried the community about air and soil quality and its impacts on their health. In the midst of a growing community agriculture movement, members of Indigenous communities in the area collaborated with other community and activist organizations, including the Hillcrest Residents Association, For the Greater Good, and Keepers of the Garden as well as Anthropocene Alliance to take action using science. Community members worked with volunteer soil scientists Matthew G. Siebecker and Bob Schindelbeck to test their lands and empower people living in Corpus Christi with data. This short film from 2023 documents the project so far. Click here to access the Spanish language transcript.


About the Community

The community is represented by the Indigenous People of the Coastal Bend and they are partnered with Anthropocene Alliance. The community resides in Corpus Christi, TX. Other associations involved in this project are: (1) The Hillcrest Residents Association, which has a history of projects that protect the community from industry, (2) For the Greater Good, which is a social and environmental justice group, and (3) Keepers of the Garden, which is an LLC that teaches gardening classes. The community resides in Corpus Christi, which is an urban city in TX of about 350,000 people. The people in the community are low-income and minority. Because they live around a lot of industries (mainly oil and gas), the community has many interesting accolades related to environmental justice. They filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps to halt construction and build out, as the U.S. Army Corps did not have the proper permitting for dredging. They have also set up a comprehensive air and water monitoring system for the area, which was started in 2016. Lastly, they have adopted parks to use for urban gardening.

The overarching goal of the community is to become self-sustaining and remove the dependency on the oil and gas industry in the area. They have partnered with Thriving Earth Exchange to assess soil health in the areas that are currently used for or will be used for gardening and agriculture. Soil monitoring will complement the existing air and water monitoring systems already set-up in the community, and data from all three projects will provide a holistic view of industrial pollution in the community. The results from the soil monitoring system will be used to determine next steps.

As mentioned previously, the community has established air and water quality monitoring systems to assess the impact of industrial pollution. They have filed and won lawsuits related to further degradation of their community. Including a soil monitoring system, will give the community information on all facets of pollution in the area and empower them to work towards environmental justice by removing their dependency on the oil and gas industry.   


About the Project

The community would like to learn about the quality of the soil in local parks and areas used for local agriculture. To do this, they would like to set up an ongoing soil monitoring system to engage and share it with local farmers who sell their produce at the farmers market as well as community members with their own gardens. This monitoring system will inform them about potential toxins in their soil. With this knowledge, the community will be able to make informed choices about urban gardening, as well as implement bioremediation strategies, if necessary, and help them achieve their goal of being self-sustaining.

We intend to take samples from key areas and have them comprehensively tested for health. Then, we plan to set-up a soil monitoring system for the community, where they learn how to monitor soil health themselves. Once the community has enough information on the health of their soil, we plan to reach out and work with a bioremediation specialist (if needed) to enhance soil health in the community. Finally, they plan to take the information from this project to the city, so that it can be made publicly available.

The project involves local community members and is specifically targeted to inform local gardeners about the health of soil they are growing their food in, as well as inform parents about the health of the soil that their children are playing with/in. The community wants to gather soil health information to inform future practices.

We will produce initial soil testing data that can be shared with community members. We will then set-up the soil monitoring system, which will produce regular data, gathered by the community, to understand long-term soil health. We plan to produce a map of soil quality that can be shared on a city website. The community also plans to deliver trainings, workshops, and presentations on the soil monitoring process, so they can engage other community members. This information is mostly for the community members themselves, but the community will decide if they need to share it further (e.g., with local policy makers or to obtain grants to further the study).

The community will benefit in many different ways. First, the community will be empowered by the opportunity to continue soil monitoring on their own. The data gathered will provide insight on areas that are relatively healthy and others that are not, which will allow them to make informed decisions about urban gardening. They will also be empowered by the data gathered, as it will allow them to pursue bioremediation techniques (if needed). This will also create many new jobs for the community, as bioremediation is a huge task. Depending on the results, this could also open more agriculture jobs as well for community members who want to grow and sell food at the local farmers market or to local restaurants.

The community will have knowledge of potential toxins they are ingesting from locally grown food. They can use this information to make informed decisions related to their health. If we are able to set-up a low-cost soil monitoring system, this could help other communities with similar issues. The results of this project may also bring green jobs, which will further decrease their dependence on the oil and gas industry. It will also provide the opportunity to teach children (in middle and high school) about how industrial pollution can permeate the hydrological, atmospheric, and lithospheric systems. It will enhance participation in science by providing hands-on experience.

Timeline and Milestones

Project Scope- Months 1-2 (finish by 9/30/22)

Find a Scientist- Months 1-3 (finish by 10/31/22)

Refine project scope with Scientist- Months 3-4 (finish by 11/30/22)

Soil sampling plan- Month 4-6 (finish by 1/31/23)

Soil collection and analysis- Months 6-8 (finish by 3/31/23)

Learn about remediation/connect with urban agriculture scientists if needed- Month 9 (April 23)

Disseminate results to community- Month 10 (May 23)

Project Team

Community Leads

Melissa Zamora– An environmental activist and social justice advocate for the last 15 years in her home town of Corpus Christi, Texas. She is a mother, grad student, an urban gardener, certified master composter, as well as a Mexica danzante with Kalpulli Ehekatl Papalotzin. Melissa is also a member of two grassroots organizations that have been fighting for social and environmental progress in her local area: For the Greater Good and The Indigenous Peoples of the Coastal Bend. Melissa has earned degrees in biology, environmental science, and is now pursuing a master’s in science education for her love of the Earth and passion for teaching others how to connect with the natural world. She is always striving to better understand environmental systems and how people play a role in them. Melissa is on a mission to help her community thrive, along with helping to preserve the last remaining ecosystems in the Coastal Bend Region of South Texas.

Coral Castillo- Community Member.

Deandra Sanchez– Community Member.

Dorothy Peña is the Community Outreach coordinator for Indigenous Peoples of the Coastal Bend, in so called Corpus Christi, Texas, and volunteers with The South Texas Human Rights Center and a grassroots organization For the Greater Good. Each organization works hard for environmental and social justice for the Coastal bend area. She interned at Ampersand Sustainable Learning Center to focus on rainwater harvesting, high desert gardening, and building with Earth. She hopes to implement this knowledge for her community and the preservation of the Earth.

Love Sanchez– Community Member.

Lamont Taylor has resided in the Hillcrest neighborhood for over 65 years. He is the 4th of 5 children and was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, but moved to Corpus Christi as a young child. He experienced segregation as a youth because if you were black and from Corpus Christi, you either lived in the projects or in Hillcrest. These were the only places black residents in the city were allowed to reside. Though Lamont studied in Austin for his undergrad and received his Master’s from Trinity University, he came back to Corpus where his fight for justice and equal rights took shape. He helped found the Hillcrest Residents Association when the City of Corpus Christi was planning to construct a waste sewage plant in the neighborhood. HRA filed a Title VI complaint and won. Unfortunately, the fights to save Hillcrest are becoming a lot more frequent due the neighborhood’s prime location for industry. Lamont is working to help people take back their power through organizing the community and letting others know of what is happening to them. He wants Hillcrest to have the same rights, services, and quality of life that people in the wealthier parts of the city are able to enjoy. His goal is to see Hillcrest thrive, and that’s what motivates him to keep up the fight every day.

Community Scientists

Bob Schindelbeck is the Director of the Cornell Soil Health Lab where he can develop his great interest in soil ecological functioning, particularly as it relates to current issues. His daily routine involves interacting with soil lab staff towards collecting reliable analytical information on the diverse soil samples that arrive at the lab. He regularly communicates to clients the useful application of the scientific information delivered in the soil health lab reports. His wide experience in field research work with soil enables him to relate to a wide variety of questions regarding soil testing. He is particularly drawn to opportunities to support growers, researchers, and the public on questions of applicability of soil analytical information to test research or practical hypotheses. He brings these ideas into his approach to general education and outreach in the soil discipline as it applies to the diverse world of agricultural outreach.

Matthew G. Siebecker is an Assistant Professor of Applied Environmental Soil Chemistry at Texas Tech University. Broadly, his research interests focus on the chemical reactions that take place between dissolved ions and molecules and the solid components of soil, including clay minerals, metal oxides, and soil organic matter. These reactions include adsorption, desorption, dissolution, surface precipitation, and redox. Dr. Siebecker is especially interested in the rapid formation of surface precipitates that are enriched with potentially toxic trace metal(loid)s. The main themes of his research include the cycling of heavy metal contaminants and plant nutrients in soil and mineral systems, as well as the impacts of climate change and the application of livestock waste to soil. He has expertise in both the traditional wet-chemical laboratory techniques as well as advanced synchrotron-based techniques used in soil chemical research. He has developed research collaborations internationally with scientists in Australia, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, France, and Italy. At Texas Tech University, Dr. Siebecker teaches an introductory undergraduate soils course as well as an advanced graduate-level course entitled Environmental Soil Chemistry. He is an active member of the American Chemical Society and the Soil Science Society of America.

Community Science Fellow

Kelly Sanks Headshot

My name is Kelly Sanks (she/her) and I am a postdoctoral research fellow at Tulane University where I study carbon accumulation in deltaic environments. I graduated with my PhD in Geoscience from the University of Arkansas in December 2021, where I studied how wetlands interact with river deltas. I have always been fascinated by nature and loved spending time outdoors as a kid, which led me to pursue a career in science. The best part about science, to me, is the ability to use the scientific method to help people solve problems. As the climate continues to change, community science will only become more important, so I am excited to learn the ins and outs of working with communities to address issues relevant to them and apply it to my future career as a research scientist! In my free time, I enjoy hiking with my dog, reading, and competing in Olympic weightlifting.

Collaborating Organization(s)

Anthropocene Alliance Anthropocene Alliance (A2) has more than 100 member-communities in 35 U.S. states and territories. They are impacted by flooding, toxic waste, wildfires, and drought and heat — all compounded by reckless development and climate change. The consequence is broken lives and a ravaged environment. The goal of A2 is to help communities fight back. We do that by providing them organizing support, scientific and technical guidance, and better access to foundation and government funding. Most of all, our work consists of listening to our frontline leaders. Their experience, research, and solidarity guide everything we do, and offer a path toward environmental and social justice.

Indigenous Peoples of the Coastal Bend

For the Greater Good: “Mission: We are FOR THE GREATER GOOD (FtGG), a local grassroots community organization dedicated to the betterment of our community. At the very least, our local government should provide safe, reliable drinking water, a clean, safe environment to live in, and quality infrastructure for all its residents. We believe our governing bodies should place people before profits. For far too long, our public officials have neglected the people’s needs as they catered to industries’ demands. We will no longer tolerate such perverse priorities. We are working to organize and mobilize the community. We are working toward shifting the priorities of our elected officials and improving the overall quality of life in our community.”

The Hillcrest Residents Association: Formed in 2007, Hillcrest Residents Association (HRA) is a community advocacy group consisting of multi-racial descendants of African-American and Hispanic pioneers living in the Hillcrest and Washington-Coles neighborhoods (founded in 1912) on the north side of Corpus Christi, Texas. One of 22 participating organizations of CAPE (the Coastal Alliance for the Protection of our Environment), HRA was founded out of concern for the deteriorating living conditions in the neighborhoods as a result of heavy industry and in anticipation of additional environmental ramifications induced by the building of the new harbor bridge, causing mass relocations. Due to their proximity to an ever expanding Port and industrial sector along Corpus Christi Bay’s Inner Harbor (referred to as “Refinery Row”), residents have endured repeated environmental assaults, marked by explosions, releases of toxic chemicals, fires, and criminal violations of environmental laws.

Keepers of the Garden: Keepers Of The Garden is an Urban Learning Garden located in Corpus Christi, Texas. Our main focus is providing sustainable life skills through hands in the dirt education. We act as a community hub for seasonal workshops and field trips from local schools and organizations. Topics range from veggie gardening, native plants & trees to outdoor cooking, survival skills and more! Check out our website and social media to find out more about our open hours and workshop availability.