Quaint urban gardens are cropping up across Winnipeg.
Many of the gardens are operated as co-ops, with members assigned their own modest patch within the communal plot.
Natalie Dyck is part of Urban Eatin’ Gardeners Worker Co-Op, a program she said helps businesses grow their own food right in the city.
"We have a lot of different things, like tomatoes,” said Dyck. “There are grape vines, strawberries, lettuce, dill.”
Growing your own greens doesn’t necessarily ensure you will have safe produce, said Dyck.
Lead, arsenic, zinc, and residue from oil and gas are all common contaminants that may be found in urban soil, and root vegetables like potatoes or carrots are most at risk of soaking up the problem chemicals.
"They are growing in the soil and if you have contaminants in the soil the contaminated soil just sticks onto the outside of those root crops," said Francis Zyomuya, a professor in the department of soil science at the University of Manitoba.
Know your soil
Plant science professor Anita Brule-Babel said knowing a bit about the soil you are planting in goes a long way.
"Get a good history of the site that you're going to use,” said Brule-Babel. “You want to be away from road splash because salts and things that they use on the roads will also cause contaminations in the soil."
Before planting an urban garden, it’s best to look for things like buildings built before 1980 that may have lead paint, or surface parking lots that could have contaminants.
Experts suggest using a raised bed garden and to cover the base with a horticultural cloth if your garden is near such a building or parking lot.
It is also important to be mindful of what you could be breathing in or making contact with while disturbing urban soils.
"Making sure you're using gloves and shoes, not bringing that into the house, washing your hands thoroughly is usually a good idea — washing your vegetables as well," said Brule-Babel.
Dyck advises doing some research into where store-bought containers and soil are originally coming from to ensure they’re safe for planting.
"Using containers where you know where the soil is from and you know what you're growing out of."
Perhaps the greatest risk from gardening comes not from vegetables taking up the metals or the contaminants but rather from the contact gardeners have when digging about the garden.