Swale: the floating food forest

The Brooklyn-based project is a self-sustaining ecosystem, created to redesign our relationship with food.

Food and water are both essential to human life, but hard to come by for many people. Enter Swale, a “collaborative floating food project” that aims to make fresh food and clean water accessible to all. Through their efforts, they hope to remind New Yorkers about their relationship with and dependence on the environment. In short, Swale’s mission is to “reimagine food as a public service, reinforce water as a human right, and work together to co-create common spaces.

As a result, this growing group of creative minds, skilled people and organisations have essentially reintroduced the ancient model of food forestry. According to Swale, the food forest is a “way to diversify plant life through supportive planting”; where each plant helps sustain the next. This ecosystem, in turn, affects dependent human communities, and we are propelled to properly care for the system that selflessly supports us.

Food forests are beneficial in that they are “naturally regenerating, resilient, and effective agroecosystems, which can, over time, provide free, fresh food”. Similar projects already exist in New York, but are not open to the public for fear that people might not respect the system and simply pillage the forests. Swale sets itself apart from these initiatives in that it hopes to eventually be able to provide free fresh food to all. We would no longer be dependent on large-scale supply chains.

The Swale food forest sits on a floating platform made of repurposed shipping containers, roughly 9 by 24 metres, and already provides free food to the public. The Swale team is currently in the process of finding ways to use river water in their irrigation systems in addition to the rainwater they currently rely on. Research into suitable water purifying methods is being carried out so that the water will be pure enough to drink and to use to water the forest plants.

In their bid to create a functional, dynamic ecosystem, the Swale team has relied on the expertise of various people, each skilled in their own field and dependent on each other. The insights of nautical engineers, architects, gardeners, artist and students have thus far all contributed to the Swale food forest project. The Swale team intends to include the greater public as well so that they might benefit and contribute in their own way.

Swale has recently been featured in Brooklyn Based, a daily online news source for all that takes place in the borough. The story covered Swale’s passing from Brooklyn to the Bronx in summer 2016, giving visitors the opportunity to climb aboard and pick fruit freely. According to Brooklyn Based, the voyage will be in collaboration with Eco_Hack 2016, “’a large-scale eco/social/digital installation and performance series,’ … that will host everything from dance performances to poetry readings.”