Have food garden, will travel? What started as an art project ended up as even more on the “Swale Barge.” This art exhibit blooms to life with a sustainable, edible “forest garden” built upon its 130-foot deck. Visitors are invited to “pick your own” food in addition to walking the deck and possibly experiencing prepared or impromptu performances occurring there.  You’ll also discover interesting objects being used in this unusual edible environment! Find your sea legs with Discovery TravelingMom.

Public Art Exhibit, Public Garden, Barge Art, Unusual Garden Locations

Stepping onto a floating food garden housed on a barge. Photo Credit: Eden Pontz / Discovery TravelingMom


A Barge Food Garden

The Swale Barge is a traveling, floating art exhibit with goals that are growing in the form of a garden with a seafaring twist. Constructed on a 130-foot barge, this free public art/garden space is designed to let visitors onboard enjoy the view, the vegetation, and interact. But it also aims to get viewers asking questions. For instance, “What if healthy fresh food could be a free, public service, and not just an expensive commodity?”

Public Art Exhibit, Food Garden, Public Garden, Barge Art, Unusual Garden Locations

A Food Garden as a Conversation Starter. Photo Credit: Eden Pontz / Discovery TravelingMom

A plank with the question, “What conversation do you want to start?” greets you as you hop on board. It’s bound to get barge-goers talking right away.  Mary Mattingly, the artist behind this collaborative project asks many other questions as she rethinks “New York City’s connection to our environment.”

U-Pick-It Food Garden

Visitors can come onto the barge and pick the food plants growing there. Depending on the season you may find between 60 and 100 plant varieties. That could include blueberries, asparagus, Swiss chard, tomatoes, persimmons and more. Yes, you pick them for free. Described as “both a sculpture and a tool, the project, “provides healthy, free food for the general public,”  according to Amanda McDonald Crowley, Curator of Public Programs. She explains the vision is to reinforce the concept of water as a common space. It’s also to get people thinking about fresh food as a “commons” too.

Food Garden or Floating Art? Both!

The barge exhibit was originally built south of Peekskill, New York. With stops on the Bronx River, it’s sailed to Governor’s Island and currently resides at Brooklyn Bridge Park. There are other locations it’s expected to stop at in the future.

The barge plays host to people wandering by, school groups, youth programs and others. Film screenings, book readings, dance performances and performance art take place in the “Greenhouse Theater.” This is a house-like structure built on the boat. Private events (think cocktail parties) are held on board.

Public Art Exhibit, Food Garden, Public Garden, Barge Art, Unusual Garden Locations

Families on board the Swale Barge discovering plants in unusual places. Photo Credit: Eden Pontz / Discovery TravelingMom

If you want to learn more about planting and seed swapping, events on the schedule include professional talks on caring for your plants. Crowley says they’ve been surprised at how generous many of the visitors have been. She says people have arrived with plants and seeds asking if they can add to the exhibit –which they can. Pickers haven’t been greedy  in the amount they’ve picked, she adds. Visitors are welcome to take part in the caretaking and picking process.

A Learning Process

“Kids love it. They love the theater performances and often end up doing their own ‘impromtu’ performances. They love picking the herbs and veggies themselves,” Crowley says. She says the project has been a “learning process” for everyone involved. “I didn’t know that Day Liles were an edible flower until this summer,” she explains.  “I knew that Echinacea came from a plant but had never made a connection between it and the tablet I take when I feel a cold coming on. Now, when I see things growing between the pavement cracks, I think about food possibilities—what weeds are edible?”

More Unexpected

Public Art Exhibit, Food Garden, Public Garden, Barge Art, Unusual Garden Locations

Upcycling. A baby grand piano finds new life as a bee hive for this food garden. Photo Credit: Eden Pontz / Discovery TravelingMom

And in another case of things found in unexpected places, a baby grand piano sits upright to serve as home to a functioning beehive. It’s fun to watch both children and adults discover this for themselves. A grandfather clock’s chimes are heard, but where are they onboard? Hidden behind plantings you’ll find flotation devices and other objects that may or may not be home to a seafaring vessel.

As artist Mattingly continues navigating her messages, another project on board will use digital sensors to collect environmental data. Temperature, moisture, pH content, salinity and more will be gathered and then put into data visualization projections so you can learn more about just how this forest garden on a barge, is growing. Where the barge will end up next will depend on the goodness of others who will be donating, volunteering and continuing to steer the ship, er, food garden.

Where can you get free, fresh veggies in New York City? Onboard this floating garden now making it way from port to post in New York.

Have you visiting the floating garden? What did you pick?