Swale Becomes New York’s First Floating Food Forest

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Swale New York

New York City’s first floating food forest—part farm and part art project—sets sail in June and will be open for business in New York harbors.

The size of one tenth of an acre, Swale New York is a fully operational food forest growing on an 80-foot by 30-foot barge made from shipping containers.

Serving as both a sculpture and a tool, according to the Swale website, it provides free healthy food at the intersection of public art and service. “We want to reimagine food as a public service, reinforce water as a human right, and work together to co-create common spaces.”

Swale New York

Organizations supporting the project include the New York Foundation for the Arts (fiscal sponsor), the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Experimental Farm Network, the Land Institute and Stuyvesant High School.

The plan is to provide around 300 people a day with freshly grown beets, asparagus, kale, chard, raspberries, huckleberries, arugula, leeks and artichokes from the barge—all for free.

Following precedent set by the Beacon Food Forest in Seattle and Clifton Park Food Forest in Baltimore, among others, the big difference here is that Swale is built on a barge. But beyond that, organizers say the effort is “dedicated to rethinking and challenging New York City’s connection to our environment.”

Swale New York

When Swale launches in June it will make stops at different New York piers for about a month at a time beginning in New Rochelle before hitting Concrete Plant Park, Governor’s Island, Pier 36, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn Navy Terminal, and then wrapping up at Staten Island’s Homeport in November.

Of note, Swale can’t break ground on dry land because of a century-old ordinance forbidding picking or foraging for food on public land. “The law dates from a time around the late 1800s, when a certain ideal of beauty was being established,” explains developer/founder and artist Mary Mattingly. “We want to show that healthy, fresh food can be a free public service, not just an expensive commodity, and something that for not much work and effort, a city could supply.”

Swale has raised $32,000 to date—about half of the funding it needs—and launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the remaining funds.

Swale New York

Mattingly previously built ecosystems and mobile environments including floating art Waterpod and WetLand. If all goes as planned, she said Swale could produce up to 6,000 pounds of food in its first year—a harvest comparable to traditional food forests of similar size. “We want to turn what could be challenges into positives,” she said, in Civil Eats.

An edible ecosystem sailing through the harbors of New York and serving those hungry for harvest and health—now that’s a sustainable model worth duplicating.

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