"Swale" sculpture - marymattinglystudio

"Swale" sculpture

Website Link: www.swalenyc.org

Swale was an intentionally provocative public artwork and a floating edible landscape on a reclaimed barge that launched in 2016. Growing or picking food on New York’s public land has been illegal for almost a century for fear that a glut of foragers could destroy an ecosystem. Swale utilizes marine common law in order to be public yet circumvent local public land laws. Swale was a floating edible landform that provided fresh free food for harvest at the intersection of public art and service. With Swale, we want to reinforce water as a commons, and work towards fresh food as a commons too.

Swale came out of learning that in addition to over 100 acres of community garden space in NYC, the city cares for 30,000 acres of public parkland, while access to fresh food is limited. People visit Swale to pick edible and medicinal perennial plants for free.

In 2017, due to a confluence of Swale, a NYC Parks commissioner supportive of edible landscapes, and the strength and support of many community groups and stewards, NYC opened its first "foodway" in Concrete Plant Park in the Bronx. If there continues to be stewardship interest, they may build more.

In 2020, Swale closed due to the pandemic and is currently being rebuilt on a permanent vessel and will re-launch in the summer of 2024.

Swale, 2016, Concrete Plant Park Bronx, photo RAVA FilmsSwale, 2016, Concrete Plant Park Bronx, photo by RAVA Films

A Floating Food Forest video by A Blade of Grass, 2016

Swale at Brooklyn Bridge Park, a floating food forest in NYCSwale at Brooklyn Bridge Park, a floating food forest in NYC

Swale at Brooklyn Bridge Park, a floating food forest in NYCSwale at Brooklyn Bridge Park, a floating food forest in NYC

CBS News documentary about Swale in 2017, interviewing Naseem Haamid from NY State's Summer Youth Employment Program


In 2018, Steve De Seve visits Swale with BRIC TV


During Swale's first year, news orgs help spread the word


Amanda McDonald Crowley films Swale's first celebration.


I grew up in an agricultural town outside of NYC where the drinking water was polluted. That framed my understanding of access to clean water as increasingly rare, but also strengthened my resolve that it is both right and responsibility that needs to be protected. So Swale came out of a personal need to connect with and rely upon New York's waterways and public land in order to better care for it, and by proximity, for each other. Swale has been a tool to advocate for policy change. Since marine common law is different from New York City's public land laws, Swale can pave a pathway to create public food in public space.

Organizations helped tell the story of Swale, a floating food forest that merges  art and imagination with food justice: 

NPR | New York Times | Washington Post | Art in America | Hyperallergic | New York Observer | Metro New York | Smithsonian | Brooklyn Based | PSFK | The Atlantic | Morning News USA | The Huffington Post | The Wall Street Journal | ABC1 | ABC2

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