Edible garden to set sail on New York’s East River

A rendering of how Swale might appear to a New Yorker looking out at the East River. Photo: Mary MattinglyA rendering of how Swale might appear to a New Yorker looking out at the East River.
Photo: Mary Mattingly

In recent years, edible gardens have become all the rage, springing up everywhere from rooftops to baseball stadiums. Now, in its latest incarnation, the edible garden has found its way onto a barge.

The project is called Swale and the garden is being established on an 80-foot by 30-foot floating platform. Serving as an art installation, free food source, and possible peek into the future, Swale’s mission is to show the value of community interdependence in the search for food security.

“It’s a call to action, a vision of what a New York City of the future could be,” Swale’s website says. “By bringing together groups from varying backgrounds, we will create an environment that works together to find new ideas and answers to food security.”

The barge will travel the East River and dock at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Governor’s Island, and the Bronx, where visitors will be welcomed aboard and invited to harvest from the floating forest of food – free of charge.

Plants like blueberries, scallions, rosemary, basil, cherry tomatoes, wild arugula, bok choy, and more will be available for New Yorkers to choose from.

“We want to ask, what if healthy free food could be a public service instead of an expensive commodity,” Mary Mattingly, the artist behind the concept of Swale, told Brooklyn Based. “We see this as a step toward policy change in the city, where on most public land it’s still illegal to grow public, free food, and believe that the benefits outweigh all potential risks that have deterred the city from planting edible perennial plants as part of the urban infrastructure.”

Since the inception of Mattingly’s idea, the project has grown to include the help of landscape architects, gardeners, nautical engineers, educators, students, fellow artists and the U.S. Coast Guard.

While Swale will mostly be dependent on rainwater for irrigation, it will also use river water. Engineer Lonny Grafman and researcher Liz Lund have been working on creating a desalination system that will utilize saltwater marsh plants and a gravity-fed filtration system.

In order to gain permission from the Coast Guard, Swale is stocked with plenty of life jackets in the unlikely event of an accident.

All told, the project is estimated to cost $50,000. Swale has received funding from A Blade of Grass, which aids artists whose projects encourage social change. It is also fiscally sponsored through New York Foundation for the Arts.

If all goes smoothly, Swale is scheduled to open June 28.

“We hope a future New York can actually include Swale as part of the city’s public plan in a safe, thoughtful way,” Mattingly said. “We want the project to not only address common spaces, but to work toward co-creating them.”

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