“The Parks Department is looking to take more and more ownership of it, and potentially adopt it long-term at a public park, but we’re not to that point yet,” Mattingly says, as we stand on a pebbled path near the barge entrance, with a close collaborator, curator Amanda McDonald Crowley. Mattingly’s goal is for Swale to find a permanent home and for New York City to replicate her model, harvesting perennial edible plants in more parks in the City.
“On Swale, people can come on and just pick food for free—that’s something that can’t happen on public land, yet,” she says.
Yet is the operative word. At the moment, due to liabilities and safety concerns, public parks are not permitted to produce edible plants. Mattingly has been in talks for the past year and a half, to begin to discuss altering these policies; the Parks Department and other city organizations have been considering the issue for some time.
Parks like Brooklyn Bridge Park have edible plants and take people on tours to see them, but consumption is not permitted. Given that the city is home to nearly 30,000 acres of parkland, Mattingly sees a ripe area for change that has the potential for major impact.
This summer the Parks Department is taking steps to test these waters, beginning with land at Concrete Plant Park, where Mattingly originated Swale last year. The city has plans to convert a greenway—a park that is open 24 hours, instead of dawn to dusk—into a foodway, a 24-hour park planted with edible perennials.