Swale: The Floating Forest You Have to Check Out

Ever wish you could go fruit and vegetable picking without leaving the city? Imagine a floating garden that travels between the boroughs, covered with citizens’ favorite flowers and pesticide-free fruit, vegetables and herbs you and your children can pick and take home for free.  Imagine that fabulous floating food forest also had fun and informative activities for you to do with your kids free of charge.  Well, you can stop imagining and visit it yourself, because Swale is back for 2017!

Photo: courtesy of Swale

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photo: Swale

What’s A Swale?
The word “swale” means low tract of land, especially one that is moist or marshy, but this Swale was established in 2016 by artist Mary Mattingly as a floating public food forest built on a 5,000-square-foot barge.

Swale was conceived as an interactive public artwork that connects New Yorkers to nature and calls attention to the collective use of the city’s land and waterways.  Mattingly found out that while as many as three million New Yorkers live in communities with limited access to places where they can get fresh produce, New York State’s 30,000 acres of parkland in the city can’t be farmed by the public.  However, waterway common law would allow a barge to be a test case for an edible “foodway,” demonstrating its viability to both the people and the government of NYC.

In short, Swale was built to be a useful and educational community garden that could move so different local communities could visit and participate.

Photo: courtesy of Swale

photo: Swale

Seasonal Yum
Currently located at Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park (which, in addition to killer playgrounds, is home to cool attractions like public art, roller skating and the popular carousel) Swale is a little slice of edible green heaven with a great view of the lower Manhattan Skyline and Governors Island.  A quick clamber down the ramp from the pier and you’re among bright perennial native flowers, berry shrubs, and even a mini-apple orchard courtesy of partner Strongbow Cider.  

Knowledgeable staffers can show you around, tell you what’s in season and describe how the mini-farm works.  In the second week of May we tried delicious kale and collard flowers and lamb’s ear, all great additions for a salad. Magnolias were blooming, different kinds of mint abounded and rhubarb was just about ready.  As the spring and summer wear on, expect blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries your little ones can gather, as well as asparagus, beans, chard, lettuces, chives and more to forage as you like.  Of course, come fall, you can pick some of those apples.

Photo: courtesy of Swale

photo: Swale

Seasonal Fun
But it’s more than just pick-your-own. Visitors are welcome to bring their own favorite non-invasive perennial plants to be added to the landscape. Swale also not only does work with local community youth groups in the South Bronx and programs for school groups, but you’ll all find free events open to the public 

Activities include dyeing fabrics and painting with plants, making teas and snacks, learning how to identify urban plants, edible and medicinal plant tours and weaving and rope-making.  Swale makes sure its programs are appropriate for all ages, so children are more than welcome to participate and even join in by volunteering.  If you have any questions about bringing your little gardeners or would like to bring a plant to donate, just contact them before you go.

When, Where and How
Swale is open to the public Thursday-Sunday, Noon-6p.m. Note: If there is more than a 50% chance of rain, it’s not open. (If you’re unsure, check the Swale Twitter feed for the latest information.) Also good to know: If your family is prone to motion sickness, gusty days might not be best on a floating platform.

Currently located at Brooklyn Bridge Park by the beach volleyball area, Swale will visit two other NYC locations, still to be determined, over the next few months. (In 2016, Swale also docked at Concrete Plant Park in The Bronx and on Governors Island. Locations will be announced on the Swale web site, Facebook page and Twitter feed.) 

Pro tips: if you’re taking public transportation, the closest subway stops are a bit under a mile away, but the B63 bus will drop you right at Pier 6.  Also, note that the walkways on Swale are paved with large gravel, so you’ll want to skip the stroller or bring a foldable one.  Happy gardening!

Swale New York
Sun.-Thurs., Noon – 6 p.m.
Brooklyn Bridge Park, additional NYC sites through 2017
Online: www.swaleny.org

Have you and your family visited Swale?  Tell us about your experience in the comments!
— Gretchen Kunz


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