Swale: Food Forest on a New York River

Swale: Food Forest on a New York River

An old barge, once used for hauling sand to construction sites, was given new life in 2016 when artist Mary Mattingly founded Swale – a “floating” public food forest funded through a grant from A Blade of Grass.

Swale – A Floating Food Forest

The forest’s landscape design is inspired by edible forestry, permaculture, and salt-tolerant estuary ecosystems – bringing together perennial native fruit trees and shrubs, leafy self-seeding annuals and salt loving grasses.

Permaculture techniques are applied to ensure the project’s sustainability and self-sufficiency, offering opportunities to teach the public more about these valuable practices. Citizens are encouraged to work collaboratively to manage these common resources.

“I’ve learned a lot about permaculture gardening,” said Amanda McDonald Crowley, community outreach coordinator with Swale. “We have different zones and we’re matching things that support one another, in terms of how they’ve been planted.”

Mattingly’s involvement with permaculture started with the Concrete Plant Park project in the South Bronx. The intent of the project was to revitalize an abandoned site through the re-establishment of salt marshes along the riverbank, but limitations in place from the City of New York prevented the growing of food for the use of the community.

According to the laws and policies in place in New York, citizens are not allowed to “deface, write upon, sever, mutilate, kill, or remove from the ground any plants, shrubs, or other vegetation” without the permission of the Commissioner. This prevents residents from picking fruits and vegetables that have been grown the garden for their own consumption.

Instead, Mattingly took over the old barge located at the concrete park’s pier. Vegetation grown aboard this floating food forest would be immune to the city’s policies, and since the barge is able to be moved from one pier to another, the forest would be able to extend the program’s reach – providing education and free, fresh produce to more communities that have little access to these resources.

“Healthy living and healthy options are what community members deserve – they deserve to see this and they deserve to have access to it,” said Naseem Haamid, lead youth organizer with Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, a local organization that has partnered with Swale. “When people come onto Swale and see that things can grow in the Bronx, they’ll fight for it in other places.”

The goal of Swale is to “strengthen stewardship of public waterways and land, while working to shift policies that will increase the presence of edible perennial landscapes.” This project is the first “test case” of a food forest available as an open resource for public use, and advocates “for food to be grown on some of the 30,000 acres of public land in New York City.”
“Our goal is also to influence city policy,” McDonald Crowley said. “Why isn’t it legal to grow food in public parks in New York, where communities can actively do their own planting and harvest food in public spaces? What would it look like in our cities if food were a public service, and not just an expensive commodity?

Many Thanks to the team @ http://www.swaleny.org/

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