Strengthening Opportunities for Rural Communities to Cleanup and Redevelop Brownfields

By Mathy Stanislaus

The Brownfields program creates benefits for local communities including: leveraging job creation, increasing residential property values, and supporting community revitalization and economic redevelopment. Many communities invest time and resources for the opportunity to receive Brownfield grant funding.

Looking at the Brownfield grant competition, I recognize it’s hard for many rural communities to compete for resources because they often don’t have the capacity to compete like larger communities.

Following up from recent meetings I had with State leaders in Regions 6 and 7 (where they raised concerns about our ability to deliver Brownfields resources to rural communities) I went to Nebraska to meet with 35-40 representatives from rural towns in Nebraska and western Iowa in an open forum. This continued my effort to reach out to rural stakeholders and ask how the Brownfields program can better provide tools to help convert their brownfield sites to cleanup and redevelopment opportunities.

During the meeting there were a number of suggestions that include providing targeted technical assistance to rural communities to assess sites to advance redevelopment opportunities; looking at how our grant competition can provide a more targeted competition allowing rural communities (in particular communities under 20,000) to compete at the same level as larger communities; delivering more resources through state environmental response programs to better assist rural communities.

Another idea raised was to align our TAB (Technical Assistance to Brownfields) resources with the USDA rural assistance program to integrate our resources to better deliver assistance. We talked about manufacturing opportunities in rural America and how that’s an under-appreciated and valuable opportunity to create local jobs.

I left the meeting excited by the great suggestions to better provide resources for them to expeditiously move forward on projects. There was a sincere desire from folks working hard to rebuild their communities. I was very impressed with their level of energy, commitment and sincerity. I was impressed with their commitment to collaborate among adjacent rural towns to take a collaboration-based approach to economic development.

I look forward to continuing the conversation with these communities and turning these suggestions into reality. An immediate next step is to summarize potential options, seek further input and help schedule workshops led by our TAB providers for communities with the Brownfields resources application process. We will circulate and post on our website the tools our TAB grantees developed to strengthen efforts to connect TAB grantees with local community leaders and groups.

About the author: Mathy Stanislaus is assistant administrator for EPA’s Office Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

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Garden with your Elders!

By Leon Latino

One of my oldest gardening memories is picking Japanese peapods for my grandfather, a 2nd generation Italian-American who moved the family from Worcester, MA to rural East Brookfield, where he had room to plant massive gardens. Though I did not really enjoy picking peas or watering cucumbers at the time, I now find gardening to be one of my favorite outdoor activities.

As part of the Environmental Careers Program at EPA, I was encouraged to join an “action learning team” along with other new employees. Building on our common interests in gardening, food security, and community-building, we decided to document examples of elder-accessible community gardens, gardening plots thoughtfully designed with elders in mind.  Most have raised beds that bring the gardening surface closer to waist height, to allow for easy use. These gardens represent a great opportunity to involve elders in community-building activities, while also providing low-impact exercise and improved access to fresh food.

My team looked for examples of elder-accessible gardens on former Brownfield sites. Can you imagine a blighted or underused parcel of urban land being redeveloped as a garden? How about a garden where elders can enjoy time outdoors in the shade while imparting gardening knowledge and cultural knowledge on younger generations? It is quite a transformative idea!

EPA’s “Urban Agriculture & Local, Sustainable Food Systems” website provides information that empowers both urban and rural gardeners to properly assess and mitigate potential contaminants in their soils. Their mantra is “test your soil first,” especially if you do not know the history of your gardening site.

The Brownfields “Urban Ag” website features my team’s new publication on elder-accessible gardens.
Here’s an example from Philadelphia, where gardens have become a place of cultural exchange for a diverse group of elder immigrants.

Do you know of other examples where gardens are “growing community” or revitalizing under-used sites? Share your stories below!

About the author: Leon Latino has been with EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management since 2009. He and his wife have modified their pavement-heavy urban environment with raised-bed and container gardens, plus a rain garden and rain barrels.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.