Swale – A Floating Food Forest
Food forests are arguably the oldest form of gardening, generated through companion planting methods. These cultivated diverse arrangements of plants strengthen, support, and nourish each other while fighting pests and attracting pollinators. Edible forests re-integrate us with natural resources we need, and need to care for. They invite more interdependent living, and over time, provide inexpensive production of fresh food where it is lacking. Naturally regenerating, food forests are one of the most resilient agro-ecosystems and means for sustainable food production. Unlike traditional gardening and industrial agriculture, food forests grow to be stronger and more plentiful each year. Food forests on New York City’s land have been off-limits for almost a century for fear that a glut of foragers may destroy an ecosystem. Yet, a food forest built on the water can imagine a different set of rules.
Swale is a mobile, floating food forest that will dock at different piers around New York City’s harbor for months at a time. A 50 foot wide torus-shaped floating platform contains a gangway entrance, railings, walkways, and an edible forest garden. It is being planned through inputs from different groups and individuals citywide. The base layer of wetland plants on Swale is designed to eventually grow from the river when a permanent home is found, filtering and wicking water to edible plants.
Collaborating with a nautical engineer, gardeners, and landscape architects, the superstructure is made up of materials from the US Army’s longest war in history in order to reestablish a different material, economic, social, and conceptual pathway. The project will be introduced to local nurseries, environmental groups including the Project for Public Spaces, the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, and the New York Restoration Project, as well as additional schools around New York City through a series of design charettes and permaculture workshops.
After an initial year of planning sessions, organization, and building, Swale will function as a floating island, open to the public. People may visit, partake in the caretaking process, and collect fresh food on Swale. At once, Swale produces fresh food, connects people with the water, and with an entire ecosystem. Engaging with an ecosystem on the water creates a microscopic view into a macroscopic living system. When we are only able to see a part of a whole, we rarely have the chance to understand how the entire system works. On Swale all of the working parts will be seen, understood, and then reimagined.
In its formative stages, Swale has begun partnerships with organizations including the National Parks Service in Jamaica Bay, and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation in the Bronx, with preliminary permission to dock on the Bronx River, and in Jamaica Bay. Build-out space has been arranged through the North Brooklyn Boathouse on the Newtown Creek in Brooklyn, New York.
While working with city, state, and federal agencies is essential, the project plan needs to have local co-ownership. Swale will be introduced at community board meetings in neighborhoods near potential piers, to better understand needs and potential uses for each space and work these uses into the design. To spread knowledge about the project, it depends on these working in partnership with local organizations. Currently, Swale is being supported by “A Blade of Grass” a fellowship program that provides funding resources to assessment and pro-bono legal services.