Rendering of Swale by artist and co-founder of Swale, Mary Mattingly
Sometimes the right combination of people, place and ideas creates something that is so mind blowing and magical that you literally feel a buzz. Enter Swale, a massive, 5,000 sq ft barge in New York being transformed into a floating, edible food forest.
Swale, before the Transformation, docked in Verplanck, New York.
Swale is heading to New York City later this month where initial landfall will be the Bronx. Then, next, on to Governors Island in the heart of New York Harbor. Recently, I was invited to visit the barge, currently a build-out work in progress, at a dock in Verplanck on the Hudson River, just north of the city.
When standing on the barge, I felt the magnitude of the project. Astounding describes the work objectives enthusiastically established by the inspiring Swale team.
Pictured above: A large roll of impermeable plastic membrane at one end of the barge. It will cover the barge floor and then a layer of gravel will be put on top to flatten the floor of the barge out.
Being on site at the marina made clear the technical complexities of the undertaking. Something akin to shivers of visceral excitement were felt upon witnessing the genesis of a living forest atop a bare steel hulk.
And, wonderfully, the barge will incorporate solar panels, rainwater catchment, plus sea water filtration for irrigation. Luckily, the diverse team includes Lonny Grafman, an Instructor of Environmental Resources Engineering and Appropriate Technology at Humboldt State University, California.
Lonny Grafman has his work cut out for him building garden beds for Swale.
Swale is permaculture performance art. We have a group of creative, emboldened souls designing and building a living forest that grows edible perennials to be harvested for free by the public. The consumable forest installation willserve as a performance space, activist gathering place, gallery and platform for artworks and ideas that emerge from this unique collaboration of art, activism, technology and environment.
Swale Collaborator Biome Arts will embed biosensors in the plants and measure information such as water movement and salinity, air temperature and humidity, wind direction and the growth of plants. Biome Arts will then "create semi-abstract data visualizations that will re-broadcast this data onto the forest; so, in essence, the real forest will be driving a digital abstraction layered on top of it, creating a new kind of large scale “cybernetic ecology.”
Swale will serve as a meeting ground for New Yorkers to gather not only fresh herbs and produce, but also momentum to transform all of New York City into a living, breathing monument to ingenuity and sustainable living.
The beginnings of the Swale Forest, awaiting planting, sit next to large water storage containers.
The idea of free healthy food growing in public spaces inside a huge city that has become exponentially expensive might seem far fetched. But, not for the intrepid founders of Swale. I had the pleasure to make their acquaintance when I ventured to Verplanck last week to see the unfolding project.
Artist Mary Mattinlgly is one of the forces of nature behind Swale. Her genuine energy is infectious. Mary is reaching for the stars from the ground up without any artistic pretension whatsoever. Mary appears in the excellent video linked at the end of this post which gives a history of the project. Her words:
"I feel it's not too late to really change what the city can provide for us. What if free healthy food was a public service and not an expensive commodity? That is the question we really want to ask with this movable structure."
Swale sprouted from Waterpod (TM) Project. Mary and a small group of kindred spirits established a self sufficient community on a barge, living on the waters around New York City. They collected rainwater, grew food, raised chickens and utilized solar energy. Their mission now is to create edible landscapes throughout the city, transforming common space into a beautiful, productive food landscape.
Happy Birthday America! Let's find the money, the will and the way to help Swale grow.
Swale needs plants, seedlings and fruit trees to become part of their forest dreamscape. They currently have some plants growing in the Bronx and Brooklyn with collaborators, but could use more. Please Contact Swale To Offer Help and Support.
Solar Panels being offloaded at the dock, soon to be installed on Swale by Wilfredo Mena, a collaborator from the Dominican Republic.
I plan to visit Swale again while it is still moored in Verplanck. I intend to bring some Thyme I have in a large container that survived last winter in my garden.
And, I am emailing and calling everyone I know to try and stir up support for Swale. I hope to see a Hudson Valley/Catskills section of the Forest which can grow from seeds and plants donated from where I live in Ulster County. Other regions of New York should join in and stake out an Agri-hood on Swale!
And, attention wealthy New Yorkers and socially conscious companies who want to make a real difference / splash: Swale needs $100K to buy the barge which they are now leasing.
The French kindly gifted us the Statue of Liberty. Maybe New Yorkers can rally round Swale and provide a permanent moving sculpture that becomes part of Gotham's iconography.
Rendering of Swale by T Craig Sinclar.
Let us, as a collective, envision a fleet of Swale barges, one for each borough of New York City, all traveling among docks and land based food forests that are interwoven throughout the metropolis.
Let's imagine a city of not only edible forests and gardens, but a city growing algae for green fuel, transforming its sewage into bio energy, growing hemp to make fabric and clothes inside green buildings which power themselves.
As Fred Ebb's lyric says:
"If I can make it there, I'm gonna make it anywhere, It's up to you, New York, New York."