Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

NewsFood & Hunger

Floating garden to offer free produce to residents of NYC


The lettuce you use for your next salad might come from a floating forest if you live in New York. Say good bye to your tomatoes that are grown in an industrial greenhouse, because now your produce could come from a lush, floral barge that drifts down the Hudson River.

New York’s newest project, Swale, is a mixture of art, innovation and sustainable farming. The garden will be floating along all summer, docking at various piers throughout the city for two weeks at a time. If you’re curious about this farm-as-art project go visit it and enjoy the produce—it is free for the picking!

New York is not the first city to create a food forest where community members can freely harvest goods. Seattle began the trend back in 2012 with their Beacon Food Forest. In actuality there are tons of community gardens throughout New York City, but Swale might be the first to float atop the water.

This floating green mass looks and exists like a natural landscape. It has over 80 species of trees and plants: from fresh raspberries to arugula.

If you live nearby, your salad game will be kicking.

Swale sounds a bit like a 21st century redo of the innovative and impactful floating gardens that existed in Mesoamerica during the reign of the Aztec empire. The chinampa gardens composed Tenochtitlan’s agricultural system, and fed the Valley of Mexico’s growing population.

The gardens were destroyed once the conquistadors came to rule over the valley, but this type of agricultural practice has come back into vogue almost half a millennium later.

Swale is not an illusion but an 80-by-30 foot platform made from shipping containers. It has the ability to suck up, desalinate and purify water from the Hudson River, and then use it to irrigate plants if there’s a drought during the summer.

However, Swale’s use of plastic containers to grow produce is actually a well tested prototype. Rooftop gardens-where produce is grown in plastic containers on the roofs of buildings--have grown in popularity in response to the lack of green spaces in urban areas.

A photo posted by Karen Au Young (@karenay) on

Some rooftop gardens have been able to produce over 3,000 lbs of food—apparently plastic containers are terrific for growing fruits, vegetables and herbs.

The goal of the forest is to make fresh food and fresh water a free commodity, a bold idea considering how much the two can cost in the city, and in the United States. Food and water as a commodity, can be correlated to hunger in the United States. Today, 1 in 7 people are going without enough to eat, 48.1 million Americans live in food insecure households with 15 million of this number being children. Then there are food deserts, areas where fresh produce is neither available nor affordable for populations a large part of the population.

This is why projects like Swale, and the Beacon Food Forest are a promising alternative to the status quo.Hopefully, these mini-ecosystems will, as Swale’s project designer Mary Mattingly said, will, "highlight the waterways as a commons—as a  space that needs to be cared for and in turn can care of us.”