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With Floating Farm, New York Looks to the Future of Public Parks

Public foraging farms are sprouting up from coast to coast, but one, in New York, has an especially ambitious social mission.

If you always thought Central Park needed more edible plants, you’re in luck.

Come April, a farm full of fruit trees and other crops will float to locations in three New York City boroughs, and visitors will be invited to enjoy nature by literally picking, snipping, and sowing to their hearts’ content. Located on a 5,000-square-foot barge, “Swale” will include 4,000 square feet of solar-powered growing space, including a perennial garden, an aquaponics area, and an apple orchard sponsored by Heineken USA’s Strongbow Apple Ciders atop a large man-made hill. (The hill allows deeper root space for fruiting trees.)

The project will be open to the public, but it’s more interactive exhibit than floating Central Park; only 75 people can board at once, and docents will usher guests around the grounds. Free educational workshops will include “painting with plants” and “dying natural fabrics,” and volunteers will always be on hand to explain how thoughtful permaculture planning can create a virtually self-sustaining farm.

But founder Mary Mattingly’s goals go far beyond providing city dwellers with a high-design place to forage for mushrooms in their next attempt at Beef Bourgignon.

She wants to make people work harder for public spaces, and public spaces work harder for people. She wants to create a model for sustainable urban farming. She wants to create an educational space. And she wants to eradicate the problem of food deserts in blighted urban neighborhoods.

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