A food forest is floating around New York City right now. You read that right, a food forest. If you’re imagining a Willy Wonka-caliber environment, pull back—this one is actually a lot better. Swale, a food forest built atop a barge, travels to New York City piers to educate and feed the public. Inviting visitors to harvest fruit, vegetables, and herbs—for free—Swale is like your local farmer's market, but a much more immersive experience. Part art installation, part-community garden, Swale surfaced last year with a limited engagement, and is back this spring and summer with more comprehensive public events and community service goals. Plus, they planted an apple orchard.
OK, so it’s eight apple trees, but considering that they’re planted on a barge, this is quite a feat. For their second season, Swale partnered with the hard cider company Strongbow to plant the apple trees, along with completely upgrading the barge design to function more like a park. Swale is hoping that this fall visitors will be able to stroll along the barge and casually pick a few apples.
The floating forest is a charming spot for an outdoor adventure, but it was created with deeper intention than recreation. “Food deserts are a reality in many communities in New York City,” reads the Swale website. “As many as three million New Yorkers live in communities with limited access to places where they can get fresh produce.” The founders of Swale hope to address food security by increasing edible landscapes, starting with the food forest, which they say is a call to action at its heart.
Although Swale was met with delight by visitors last summer, some of whom even brought their own plants to donate to the food forest in exchange for picking produce, the barge almost didn’t come back this year. “The future of Swale was uncertain as the barge headed upstate to over-winter last November,” artist and founder of Swale Mary Mattingly told Condé Nast Traveler. “But thanks to Strongbow and the Swale team, we have been able to fully realize the vision of creating a floating food forest and showing New Yorkers a new and surprising way to connect to nature.”
Swale is open to the public daily (providing there’s no rain) and will float along New York City’s waterways all summer, offering events aboard the barge from a medicinal plant tour to weaving with plants.