Forgotten trees from long lost orchards and 20th-century city landscaping are being rediscovered in urban areas, and their fruits are proving not only largely free of urban pollutants, but more nutritious than their retail counterparts.
Scientists at Wellesley College have joined forces with the League of Urban Canners (LUrC), based in Cambridge/Somerville and greater Boston area, to collect and eventually analyze 166 samples of apples, peaches, cherries and other urban fruits and herbs, collected from remnants of historical farms, urban parkland, and residential properties. The efforts grew out of concern for a LUrC member who was found to have high levels of lead in their blood. Members of LUrC wanted to make sure that the urban fruits they were harvesting and processing were not harboring toxic metals.
“This is a story with a good ending: not much lead in these urban harvested fruit,” said Dan Brabander, Wellesley geosciences and environmental studies professor who has previously studied lead exposure risk in urban gardens and in areas impacted by historical mining activities.
The LUrC study investigated the concentrations of lead in urban fruits when they were peeled and unpeeled as well as washed and unwashed. That was intended to distinguish whether the fruits were taking up lead internally or being contaminated by dry deposition from the air or from soil dust.
“We found there was no difference between these variables,” said Ciaran Gallagher, an undergraduate researcher, who will be presenting the research at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Baltimore. Gallagher will be co-presenting with geoscience undergraduates Hannah Oettgen and Disha Okhai.