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On a recent walk one afternoon in Manhattan, I stumbled upon a shipping container. Parked on a small patch of concrete next to a subway exit in Soho, the steel box took up about the same amount of space as several parked cars. It was noticeable for its novelty but otherwise unobtrusive. I peered inside and saw electric pink lights and column after column of leafy greens.
I wanted to start a vegetable garden in my backyard. But my yard is in Brooklyn, a land of street garbage, truck exhaust, and stray cats. So I decided to figure it out: Was it really safe to grow food there?