A Garden That Is Huge, Sustainable, Empowering And Free

The Lempert Report
August 18, 2017

It’s a 5,000 square foot art project called Swale

Created by artist Mary Mattingly as a way to grow produce in a public space, the Verge describes it as a floating garden brimming with edible plants, including apple trees planted atop a 6-foot hill. Open to the public, anyone can board the barge and pick fresh food for free One such person is Alessandra Potenza who took a ride on the barge and here’s what she had to say. 

“The idea behind Mattingly’s project is to bring foraging to the concrete jungle, where very little fresh produce is grown locally. Mostly, fresh fruits and vegetables are imported and thus expensive. There’s definitely a market for local food: New York City alone is estimated to have over $600 million worth of unmet annual demand for local food.” 

But there is a problem. Swale produces just about 400 pounds of food per season, which is not enough to satisfy even one person’s fruit and veggie intake in one year. So floating barges are unlikely to meet the local food demands on their own. 

Swale is completely powered by solar panels, and it recycles its own water thanks to a system of pumps and sand filters. It also collects rainwater, and it can desalinate and purify the brackish river water if need be. The barge adds arable land in a dense urban area where land is scarce, and it can float from neighborhood to neighborhood — serving different communities from month to month. Last year, Swale was docked in the Bronx, on Governor’s Island, and then Brooklyn from May to October. 

Some other of Swale’s offerings include strawberries, blackberries, kale, lettuce, and chamomile.   

New York City has about 30,000 acres of public parks, but foraging is strictly prohibited and most public land in the city can’t be used to grow food. Swale is now partnering with the Parks Department to open the first ever edible garden in a public park in the Bronx, a few feet from where Swale is currently docked.   

Potenza tried a blackberry from the garden, as well as a bright orange edible daylily that had a little bug inside it, and she ate that as well.