Understanding Impact of Municipal Water Sources on Urban Farming

New Orleans, Louisiana

Featured image for the project, Understanding Impact of Municipal Water Sources on Urban Farming


New Orleans, Louisiana has faced significant challenges with flooding and lead contamination, which have potential impacts on local food systems. Soil contamination has long been a concern due to flooding, but now there are also questions regarding elevated lead levels in the water used to support local agriculture. The New Orleans Inspector General’s Office released a report in July 2017 warning of elevated lead levels exacerbated by the extensive road work taking place throughout the city, which can dislodge lead particles and cause public health concerns.

The National Food and Beverage Foundation’s Culinaria Center for Food Law, Policy, and Culture is concerned with the health of people working with and consuming food in New Orleans. As part of their work with urban gardeners and farmers to increase local food production, they need to understand the contaminants in the water supply that affect the food cycle. The importance of increasing local food production is critical to both the day-to-day health and wellbeing of residents, but also a concern in emergencies, in which having a local food supply can extend storage potential.

In order to develop a sustainable urban food system, the Culinaria Center needs to ensure there is clean water for safe local food production.


The Project

The Culinaria Center will partner with a local scientist to better understand whether the water supply is safe for local food production and processing, and how to deal with potential lead contamination. This project will increase community understanding of the connection between food and water supplies, and will help Culinaria advocate for potential policy changes and increased public education. This will be achieved by performing a research inventory, soil and water sampling, identifying necessary data for modeling contaminants in soil and water used for urban agriculture, and communicating information gathered back to food producers and local consumers.

Project Team

Community Leader

Pepper Bowen is the Director of the Culinaria Center at the National Food and Beverage Foundation. She is a former project manager, current enviro, and consummate lover of food. Pepper holds degrees from Tulane U (BS), Regis U (MSCIT), and Loyola New Orleans (JD); and seats on the New Orleans Food Policy Action and the Regional Sustainability Committees. She has authored academic research articles, policy papers, nasty letters to the editor, and edutaining blog posts, all in her noble quest to bring food and an understanding of where it comes from to the consciousness of people who eat.


Scientific Partner

Wendy Heiger-Bernays is a faculty member in the Department of Environmental Health at the Boston University School of Public Health where she applies her training in molecular toxicology to practical questions about the impact of industrial chemicals, consumer products and pharmaceuticals in waste streams on people’s health. She works collaboratively to assess toxicity of chemicals that are able to modify the metabolic pathways in juvenile and prenatal fish and rodent models, to characterize and screen chemicals with endocrine activity in water, characterize health risks posed by vapors in homes that originate beneath the ground, and the development of practical interventions to commonly measured chemical hazards in agricultural soils. Her research and teaching include a focus on effective ways to translate findings from the laboratory to multiple audiences. Wendy’s overall objective is to engage communities in their understanding and mitigation of environmental health risks.