Lonely Planet Writer

City dwellers can forage for berries, kale, and more as the Big Apple's floating forest returns

For most city dwellers, foraging for food might entail a Saturday morning grocery run or late night stop at the corner bodega, but there’s a more authentic option in New York City this summer. Swale is a floating forest where visitors can forage for their own fruits, vegetables, and herbs — all for free.

New Yorkers can forage for free food at the city's floating forest
New York’s floating forest returns. Image courtesy of Swale.

Conceived by artist Mary Mattingly, the 5000 sq ft barge is an interactive public artwork that aims to connect people with nature while letting them harvest from a host of trees and plants. With the backdrop of the Lower Manhattan skyline, foragers can pick from blueberries, kale, artichoke, and cilantro, among dozens of other options. As part of a sponsorship from Strongbow Ciders, Swale will also have Newtown Pippin apple trees, native to Queens, as well as several other varieties.

New York's floating forest. Image courtesy of Swale.
On board the Big Apple’s floating forest. Image courtesy of Swale.

The idea to add accessible produce to a barge sprung from learning that the city prohibits growing and picking food from its 30,000 acres of public parkland. “We really believe that the benefits of more access to fresh food outweighs the liabilities,” Mattingly tells Lonely Planet. “Since the water is a commons, we are able to build a space where people can pick fresh foods for free.” The artist grew up in an agricultural town that faced pesticide problems, including polluted drinking water. “It’s important for me to get more people to the water, in order to better care for it. It’s also important to reinforce water as a common right and express that food can and should be a commons, too,” she says.

 New York skyline with the floating forest in the foreground.
Floating forest with New York skyline in the background. Image courtesy of Swale.

Launched in 2016, Swale welcomed over 60,000 visitors and hosted 100 public programs last year. This year, the lineup includes weaving and rope making with plants, an exploration of all purpose plants, and an edible and medicinal plant tour that highlights flowers, trees, and weeds common in city spaces.

Swale is currently docked in Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6 until 30 June, and will also make a stop in the Bronx and Manhattan this summer. Hours are 12-6pm on Thursday through Sunday.