Even though food forests exist in other US cities, namely Seattle, they are illegal on land in New York City. Planting vegetables to offer free, healthy food to the public is considered to be illegal.
So to put aside that nonsense of a regulation, the farm-as-art-project called Swale created an abundant food forest that floats all the way down the Hudson Rover as a barge.
It is set to dock at local piers for at least two weeks at a time which began in June 2016. Locals will be able to get on, explore, and pick free and healthy New York food.
“First and foremost, the barge can move from place to place so more people can have access to it,” says Mary Mattingly, the artist who initiated the project. “It highlights the waterways as a commons — as a space that needs to be cared for and in turn can care for us.”
The barge is an 80-by-30 foot floating platform which is made from shipping containers. If there is a lack of rain, Swale is tricked out with a custom system to absorb river water, desalinate and purify it with marsh plants and two large filters, which then uses the clean water to irrigate the plants.
More than 80 species of trees and plants will be grown in the food forest, everything from wild ginger and raspberries to asparagus and arugula. All the plants will grow in soil, in contrast to the hydroponic systems which is used at most indoor or rooftop urban farms.
“We really believe in soil-based growing systems wherever they can be had,” says Mattingly. “It eliminates the need for extra electrical energy, nutrient solutions, algae management, and so forth. It never crossed our mind to use hydroponics when our structure can support the weight of soil, and need less maintenance because of that. We are focused on growing systems that require minimal human intervention, due to their longevity.”
Thinking big, Mattingly and the artists and organizations she has partnered with hope to ultimately be able to change city policy. “We believe the time is now to inspire transitional economies that include fresh and healthy food as a public service, not just an expensive commodity,” Mattingly says. “We believe that there is a place at the table for art that is active, experiential, and a service itself.”