Floating food forest brings nourishing nosh to New York

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The Swale farm is being installed on a 30 x 100-ft (9.1 x 30.5-m) flat deck barge

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A soon-to-be-launched project in New York is set to float the idea of waterborne farms, literally. Swale, is a mobile floating food forest built from repurposed shipping containers that will provide the public with free access to visit and to pick its freshly grown produce.

A desire for fresh, high quality, locally grown food has seen the likes of the in-store Kräuter Garten, Growing Underground in London's disused tunnels and the more conventional FarmedHere vertical farm spring up. As part art project, though, Swale seeks not only to grow food for the public, but to encourage discussion about whether or not the provision of fresh food could be a free public service, rather than "just an expensive commodity."

Supported by A Blade of Grass, the Rolin Foundation and individual donors, the farm is being installed on a 30 x 100-ft (9.1 x 30.5-m) flat deck barge, with input from a nautical engineer, landscape architects, gardeners, artists, educators, students and the US Coast Guard.

A wealth of produce-types will be grown on-board, using a "food forest" approach, where diverse planting benefits the ecosystem as a whole. Among the produce available for the public to pick will be raspberries, huckleberries, pawpaw, kales, beets, chard, arugula, leeks and artichokes.

To grow its produce, Swale will primarily use rainwater, but it will also make use of river water. In order to use water from the Hudson, East and Bronx rivers, though, it will have first have to desalinate it and purify it of chemical and biological contaminants. This will partly be done using saltwater marsh plants, with the water also filtered through tanks, sand, and gravel. A second gravity-fed process will then filter it through sand, clay, silver and carbonated charcoal.

Swale says a modest estimate is that it will be able to serve 300 people per day for four days a week. In addition, the barge will host community activities and artistic events, such as performances, tutorials and discussions.

The plan is for Swale to launch in June and to dock at a number of piers in New York for a month at a time. Its current planned locations are New Rochelle in late June, Concrete Plant Park in July, Governor's Island and Pier 36 in August, Brooklyn Bridge Park in September, Brooklyn Navy Terminal in October and Staten Island Homeport in November.

You can donate to Swale New York at the New York Foundation for the Arts website.

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