Mary Mattingly has a passion for water and food, and that may count as a very New York thing. Hers is rooted in different places, as I - and you - will learn later. Mary is a visual artist whose work has been shown in places like New Zealand, Cuba, or Canada. New York, however, is the place she chose when she planted a garden on a boat for everyone to visit - and pick what you'd like to eat.
The first time I saw this floating garden called Swale , it was closed. I hadn't expected the heavy rainstorm that came down in Brooklyn Bridge Park just when I reached the gate and noticed it was locked. So the leaves and flowers and fruit stayed out of my reach, but we got drenched all the same.
Today, however, the sun is out for my visit, children in Concrete Plant Park toss me a ball on my way to the Bronx River bank, their parents laying out food for a picnic. But it seems like everytime I visit Swale, something out of the ordinary is about to happen.
This time, the crew of another boat asks if they can tie up at the barge. "Of course", says Mary. The men work on one of the Department of Environmental Protection's vessels that once a week clears the Bronx River of debris. After an unexpected delay, the tide had changed, so they have to wait for the water to rise before they can go back. I couldn't think of a better reminder that I am, in fact, on the water.
Meanwhile, I pick and taste a leaf. "This one", says Mary while I chew, "is really good for your liver." We think of the cocktails that could challenge its effect. Then I take time to smell a flower, eat a berry in this place that Mary calls a food forest.
And yes, that sounds like a hippie-meets-hipster-kind of thing. Nice to have, nice to look at, designed to feel good about yourself, an eco-friendly paradise for a chosen few (mind the apples, kids!). In reality, this 130 by 40 foot barge floats an idea much, much bigger than a garden - and tied to an embarrassing NYC problem: In a city as rich as this, the people in several neighborhoods lack access to fresh food. And you can live on potato chips only for so long.
So let's learn from Mary Mattingly what it took to create a barge carrying edible plants, why she didn't do this on land, what this little project may mean for New York's future, and also: what art's got to do with it.
Mary, what is a food forest?
Mary Mattingly: A food forest is a kind of perennial planting. The term comes from permaculture, it is trying to evoke a forest where everything is edible. In this case, everything in the forest is either edible, medicinal, or a pollinator. Our hope was that people would come on board and pick food for free, and that it would inspire land-based spaces like this. Because Swale is a barge on the water. It was previously used for hauling sand to construction sites. A barge like this probably brought sand to be made into concrete at this space here, Concrete Plant Park, which used to be industrial.Why is your garden of free food on a barge?
There are a few reasons that we did it on the water. One is just because we can move from place to place, so we are able to show the idea in different places. But the main reason is because the public laws of the water are different than the public land laws here. Swale is on the water because we wanted to make a public space where people could pick food for free. That doesn't really exist on public land in New York City, because of rules that have existed since the Olmstead design: Picking anything on public land, including plants, constitutes destruction of property . That rule makes sense when you think about what could happen if everyone picked all the plants: There would be no plants.But sometimes rules that are made to preserve nature or save it from destruction can turn out to be a problem.
I talked to people in the Parks Department whose reasoning for the conservation that is currently done is: People appreciate biodiversity in parks in New York City. Their conservation process includes putting a lot of effort into keeping the parks' spaces more biodiverse, because otherwise, certain plants will take over. The parks' staff have to use weed killers, to put toxins on the soil and plants in order to preserve the aesthetics of the parks. We don't have to take that away, but we would like to think creatively about how that pruning can happen. If we were allowed to forage certain plants from New York public parks, these plants wouldn't be overgrowing. As food, they would also provide for a very big need.But then again, as you said: If everybody did that, nothing would grow anymore. Do you have any idea how that could be approached?
We are thinking of a commons model with stewards, where people are looking out for the spaces as well as gaining resources from them. There is a limit to how much and what people can pick for this to work. When that limit is exceeding, the more people are at the table, the more people will step up and say: „Stop, we want this for next year." It is sort of like the fishing industry. There aren't that many companies involved in the fishing industry. But imagine if many more of us could be on the water fishing. There would be more protest about how much is being fished. Swale can be a proposal for what could happen on land. And we also are able to illustrate and demonstrate that this has a use and there is a desire for something like this and for more spaces to exist like this. In the city, it could be advantageous in a lot of different ways.You are not a biologist by trade. How did you get all the necessary knowledge to make Swale happen?
You know, a lot of this was trial and error. For example, we wanted to build this hill this year, and we didn't find anyone who had built a hill on a barge before (laughs). So we talked with the engineer who built the hills on Governors Island and to a naval engineer and kind of put that knowledge together. That's how we have done a lot of these things. And we start with the materials. Especially in a city that includes the former landfill Fresh Kills - a human made piece of infrastructure so large that you can see it from space - a significant question is: What are our local resources? What can be easily accessed locally, what is in the waste stream, what is underused or can be repurposed? So we try to avoid bringing things in, whether we make a water filtration system or garden beds or create drainage underneath. I think that can lead to the larger point of thinking: If we are producing more of our food right inside of the city, then we are less a draw on the outside. And that really links up to my background of growing up in an agricultural town where a lof of what we made would go into the city and a lot of the garbage would come back out.Even though you weren't raised on the water, many of your projects involve water. What draws you to it?
What drew me to the water initially was living in an agricultural community and understanding how chemicals that we use on plants affect our water source. Secondly, that area would always flood. So it was a combination of knowing the dangers of water and also the necessity of it first hand. I specifically remember when Bechtel privatized water in Bolivia in the year 2000. That meant that some people weren't going to be able to afford water. It angered me that it suddenly became a life-or-death-struggle to get something that is so essential as well as plentiful and that should be healthy and free. Then I realized that anger came from love. I was really committed to water as a space to begin from and to try to empower it as a subject, and for me, that was working through art. There are multiple ways to do this. I could make sculptures that were really water purifiers or I could tell stories through photographs or create a space that would serve as a living story or stage. That's how I think about Swale. It is a platform where you can talk about food and the necessity of it being availabe and accessible.You've been sailing this message to different parts of the city, like Brooklyn Bridge Park or Governors Island. How do you get to dock anywhere?
Each pier has a separate permitting process, and it doesn't stop there. The city has its own regulation and permitting process, the Parks Department has another one, and the waterways, with the Coast Guard as one of the main parties. We also must have a permit from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and several state organizations. To stay permanently docked in one place would require even more of this. Even if a city-wide organization takes Swale on, we will still have to think about the state and national permits required.Sounds like a lot of work.
Yeah, but they are all stewards in a way. There is a reason for this.Sure, you don't want eight million barges trying to dock in the city or blocking the waterways. Talking about boats: Do you see any, is there traffic up here on the Bronx River?
Yes. Rocking The Boat is an organization that has kayaks and makes trips about once a week, and ... Read more (and see a bunch of photos) by clicking on "Original" - Weiterlesen im Original (mit passenden Fotos)!