The Barge

The Swale barge is currently undergoing renovations to become a permanent floating park in Brooklyn. We need your help as we build robust programs and add a greenhouse to Swale! www.swaleny.org

Swale

Swale was founded in 2016 by artist Mary Mattingly, through a grant from A Blade of Grass.

In the summer of 2016, Swale launched at Concrete Plant Park in the South Bronx, one of the largest food deserts in the United States. Food deserts are a reality in many communities in New York City; as many as three million New Yorkers live in communities with limited access to places where they can get fresh produce. Swale began as an idea to advocate for food to be grown on some of the 30,000 acres of public land in New York City, through urban stewardship initiatives led by community partners in the South Bronx.

Since 2016, Swale has hosted 205,000 visitors, over 800 guided tours, 75 school field trips, 50 free public programs and 38 Summer Youth Employees!

Swale is a provocative public artwork and a floating edible landscape on a reclaimed barge, built atop a barge that was once used for hauling sand to construction sites before it was re-purposed for growing food. 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.

According to the New York City Parks Department;

  1. No person shall deface, write upon, injure, sever, mutilate, kill or remove from the ground any trees under the jurisdiction of the Department without permission of the Commissioner.

  2. No person shall deface, write upon, sever, mutilate, kill or remove from the ground any plants, flowers, shrubs or other vegetation under the jurisdiction of the Department without permission of the Commissioner.

Swale utilizes marine common law in order to be public yet circumvent local public land-based laws.

The project follows the insights of social scientist Elinor Ostrom who spent her life learning about different ways indigenous cultures around the world have managed Commons. She learned that Commons can be sustainably managed where people know each other, trust each other, and work together in caring for a place.

Swale relies on the principle that commons can be sustainably managed where people know each other, trust each other, and work together in caring for a place. There is no limit in foraging on Swale. In fact when Swale launched, and there was not much ripe to pick, on some days we found more people bringing plants than taking them.  Swale is organized with the help of individuals, community groups, as well as city organizations in order to reinforce food and water as essential elements of a cooperatively stewarded commons. Swale calls attention to the collective use of New York City’s land and waterways through public tours, workshops and events.

Swale is a folly. A moving island can surprise and elevate peoples’ senses. It can ask people to reconsider their surroundings.  As a direct result of Swale and the support of community groups, the New York City Parks Department opened their first land-based pilot in 2017 – a public “Foodway” at Concrete Plant Park in the Bronx.  

At its heart, Swale is a call to action. It asks people to reconsider industrial food systems, to confirm a belief in healthy food as a human right, and to pave pathways to create public food in public space.


Plants

Swale’s plant community is made up of perennial native fruit trees and shrubs, leafy self-seeding annuals and salt loving grasses. Our model for landscape design is inspired by edible forestry,  permaculture, and salt-tolerant estuary ecosystems. Our plants have come from many generous donations from Greenbelt Native Plant Center, the New York City Parks Department and Visitors onboard! Our plant list is always expanding. Want to bring a plant onboard Swale? Let us know!