“Floating Food Forest” in NYC

A food desert is a place where fresh fruits and vegetables are not grown or cannot be found, and they exist all over America. Shockingly, one of the most severe food deserts is part of the most vibrant city in the world. The Bronx in New York is home to one of the largest food distribution centers in the world, but all the food there goes to upscale New York restaurants, not to the poorer neighborhood itself.

New York City artist Mary Mattingly is trying to change that. There’s an ancient ordinance in New York against growing your own food in public spaces, but that doesn’t extend to the waterways, so Mattingly has created a “floating food forest,” a 130ft barge that she’s turned into a farm. She docks right now in Concrete Plant park and opens the barge, named Swale, up to locals to peruse.

It’s all part of an effort to get the locals excited about fresh produce. “When young people come to Concrete Plant Park and they’re able to come onto Swale and see like mint, and a watermelon plant, peaches, they’re like ‘oh this could grow in the Bronx? This could grow in our community and we could have access to it?’ It’s amazing.”

And it’s working on a governmental level as well. Mattingly’s Swale has lit a fire under the Parks Department, who have opened a Foodway in the Bronx. It’s a small strip of land intended as an experiment to show that food can be grown in the city, in a safe and non-destructive way. It’s definitely a win for Swale, says Bronx volunteer Naseem Haamid. “It brings the community together, it informs the community and it pushes forward a better tomorrow and a better Bronx.”