Can a Saskatoon brownfield be transformed into fertile green space?

The City of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan is in the process of implementing a Brownfield Renewal Strategy that it deems essential to growth in its main corridors. The initiative aims to assess and prioritize redevelopment potential of abandoned, vacant, derelict, or underutilized properties along the City’s major corridors that may have or do have perceptions of contamination.

The results of the brownfields evaluation will lead to the formulation of an incentive program that will help overcome financial and environmental barriers for redevelopment, as well as provide contamination management plans for future development.

One recent brownfield development in Saskatoon was initiated by a not-for-profit organization called CHEP Good Food.  CHEP has been promoting food security in Saskatoon for nearly 30 years. The organization is currently working toward restoring a plot of contaminated land to an agricultural plot of land.

The non-profit group, which works to promote food security, has already won a grant from CN Rail that will help them plant native trees and bushes at another brownfield site in Saskatoon and to restore the soil.   The project received the CN EcoConnexions grant through Tree Canada / Arbres Canada and Canadian National Railway Company to plant native trees and shrubs on the site.

The Askîy Project grows crops on brownfield land in Saskatoon using re-purposed containers. (CBC)

A previous fruit and vegetable garden project by CHEP began in 2014 under a different name as rooftop gardens at the University of Saskatchewan. The project relocated to the brownfield site  in 2015 and was renamed the Askîy Project — which means “Earth” in Cree.

The latest CHEP project is more ambitious than the existing Askîy Project.  It involves growing trees and bushes directly in the soil as well as remediation the site.  A professor from the University of Saskatchewan, Susan Kaminskyj, will oversee experimental bio-remediation at the site.

The bio-remediation will consist of utilizing native a fungi that will assist the plants in growing but will also biodegrade the petroleum hydrocarbon contamination at the brownfield site.

Professor Kaminskyj explained in an interview with CBC, that the microbe is a common fungus, but one with “unique abilities.”  A property in the fungus allowed plants to grow and thrive on coarse Oil Sands tailings.  In early field trials, Professor Kaminskyj’s team found more than 90 per cent of dandelion seeds treated with the fungus sprouted on coarse tailings while no untreated seeds sprouted. The researchers also found the fungus was able to grow with diesel, crude oil and similar materials as its only nutrient source.