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Kernel panic! Don’t eat toxic Gowanus corn, volunteers say • Brooklyn Paper

Kernel panic! Don’t eat toxic Gowanus corn, volunteers say

A drought is killing much of the Midwest’s corn crop — but the tasty veggies are thriving on this Gowanus sidewalk.
Community Newspaper Group / Natalie O’Neill

Gowanus is awash with a mini-bumper crop of corn — but don’t go stuffing celebratory tamales.

Corn plants are popping up in Gowanus, however it’s not smart to eat the chemically tainted stuff, according to the volunteers whose landscaping efforts gave rise to the maize.

Forth on Fourth Avenue — a group dedicated to beautifying the busy thoroughfare — tried to bring life to tree pits with a planting initiative earlier this year.

But the group used a compost from the Gowanus Canal Conservancy that was likely speckled with corn seeds, resulting in grains sprouting as high as six feet near Saint Marks Place and President Street.

The unanticipated corn plants pleased green-thumbed neighbors, though volunteers now warn that consuming veggies grown in urban soil is a health risk — especially in an area suffering from decades of industrial pollution not far from the putrid Gowanus Canal.

“You really can’t eat it — it’s a bad idea,” said Elise Selinger of Forth on Fourth Avenue, a group that just received a grant for caring for the street’s young trees, which you probably shouldn’t eat either.

Selinger says that city corn should be grown in planters with cleaner imported soil rather than in tree pits with more polluted city dirt.

Even “Wildman” Steve Brill — a New York City culinary legend who regularly forages for food across the boroughs — says Gowanus corn is a risk.

“If it were in a park I’d go for it — but not so close to traffic and the canal,” he said.

Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at noneill@cnglocal.com or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.

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