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“Cool Concept.” Could it Work in the District?

by Prince Of Petworth May 13, 2016 at 11:25 am 32 Comments

Swale rendering by mary mattingly

“Dear PoPville,

I sent this to Mayor Bowser. It is my hope that DC can offer a program such as the one described in the below article. I think it would be cool for High School Seniors to have an opportunity to earn their community service credit and do something human for the needy.”

People Will Soon Be Able To Forage For Free Food In This Floating Forest:

“New Yorkers will soon be able to pick apples, arugula and rosemary — for free — from an edible forest planted on top of a barge. The vessel and project, named Swale, will glide along New York City’s waterways, docking at locations like Brooklyn Bridge Park and Governor’s Island starting early this summer.”

watch the full video on Swale’s kickstarter here.

Lots of info from Swale’s kickstarter here and on their website here.

  • PetworthMom

    For free?

    This won’t end well.

    Apparently, someone missed the day that the tragedy of the commons was covered in Econ 101.

    • FridayGirl

      Agreed. There is (literally) no such thing as a free lunch.

  • andy2

    San Francisco has fruit trees planted all throughout the city to provide free fruit to folks – it works.
    This could work in NYC, but I guarantee that DC would ruin it. We just can’t do what other cities can, don’t know why.

    • VeggieTart

      I’m as cynical as you when it comes to DC ruining it. But given that DC has two rivers, it would be nice to see if it could work. Or why not turn some of the parks into urban forests?

    • TBD

      andy2, even Bikeshare?

      • andy2

        We haven’t screwed that up yet…but the stations haven’t expanded very much.

        I’m not normally cynical but just know my city too well. I hope it could work but why not just do it at say the national arboretum or Kingman Island – we don’t need a big barge.

    • notfarfromthetree

      This was such an intriguing concept that I had to look into it. According to the local SF news, a group of folks are sneaking around at night grafting fruit tree cuttings onto existing city ornamental trees (which is technically illegal). A separate nonprofit is using a crowd source map to locate the trees once they start bearing fruit a couple seasons later. One article points out that it will be more work for the city staff who maintain the sidewalks and have to clean up the spoils, but it’s still a cool concept and I agree with you that there seems to be a more pioneering attitude out west.

  • ctk

    The full HuffPo article reads like satire. “Eco Hack 2016”?

  • Anon

    While I’m all for added greenery, the Potomac is flanked by ample green space on all sides. Given limited resources, DC could do far better to create parks in the city proper rather than overreaching on the water.

    • victoria

      Exactly. This is totally a gimmick, and not a helpful one. There is plenty of land in DC, including at public housing sites, that could be used for gardening. And interestingly, no one from the public housing complex that abuts my (fairly prolific) backyard veggie garden, has ever taken up my offer to help themselves to produce.

      • Anon

        Harvesting your own fruits/vegetables is only exciting if you’re already food-secure. This will simply attract people who can already afford their own food, or if they limit it by need it will just feel stigmatizing.

        • victoria

          HUH? Harvesting (and growing) your own fruits/vegetables actually MAKES you food-secure. Aside from the seriously homeless (mentally ill, on the street) no one in DC can really not be food-secure.

          • Anon

            There are many, many food insecure people in the District. You are very sheltered and naive to think otherwise.

          • Anon

            Let me rephrase it: The poor people that this is supposed to benefit won’t want to be out there picking vegetables. It will be the rich people with a lot of leisure time and a burning desire to do something Instagrammable. Though this could work if those people could volunteer to pick the vegetables and deliver them to the poor.

          • wdc

            This is my experience as well. I’ve been involved in projects in a couple of different cities to bring home-grown produce to the less fortunate, for lack of a better euphemism. In all cases, volunteers prepared, planted, and tended lovely gardens in close proximity to housing projects, and the produce rotted where it grew.

          • Anonamom

            There are many, many food-insecure people, namely children, in DC. This is why during the various snow storms this past winter DCPS opened schools in strategic areas to serve food to kids, and why community centers serve food in the summer time too. There are way too many kids in this city whose only regular meal comes from school.

          • victoria

            You know nothing about me or about food insecurity in DC. If you’re actually interested, I’ve lived in Columbia Heights since 1987 and worked intensively with many families on public assistance. It is a complicated issue that you clearly have no idea about.

  • thor

    Don’t really see the point of this, especially in DC. Have we run out of land to plant food on?

  • MK

    Just for clarity, this isn’t a city of New York publicly funded initiative. This is actually an art installation project funded by a private organization, the New York Foundation for the Arts. The project is supposed to serve as both public art and a source of free food.

    • victoria

      OK – Art installation. Kind of lame – but at least not a silly farm project.

  • Philippe Lecheval

    My greatest concern is that this could be used to round up people and strand them out on a river, to be left there. A fascinating experiment with a tragic outcome.

    • Anonymous

      Yup. Oldest trick in the book. Can’t believe folks are still falling for this.

  • lovessoldier

    Thank you for posting!!! Once the Wharf project is complete, I think this would be a great initiative. The Washington Area HS Seniors would take pride in creating something (much like the construction project at Cardoza and the technology efforts at McKinley) that the community needs. Once folks start taking pride in creating a resource for the underprivileged it is my hope that crime within that age bracket would decline. I also think that providing HEALTHY free alternatives to families/shelters would reduce the cost tot he city of running shelters/food bank programs. When folks eat healthier they make HEALTHIER decisions. Many of the Barbers/Electricians/Plumbers/Carpenters who graduated in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s are still working in the professions that began in High School as vocational programs. Why not encourage the kids to grow their own food, it is a skill that will never expire.

    • AnonV2

      Great, so let’s get something started on the grounds of DCPS middle and high schools where the students already are, maybe combined with a free mobile market to get the produce to other areas around the city (converted school bus or something like the Arcadia Market already does). Money would go a LOT further without having to maintain the waterborne gardens.

      • lovessoldier

        Actually elementary schools and middle schools have community gardens already. I feel like having older students across the city coming TOGETHER in a neutral setting, for something positive, would end territorial beefs (I neglected to put that in my first post). I graduated in 1991 from McKinley. EVERY sporting event against Dunbar resulted in mass fighting. Sound familiar? Things like the Summer Urban League/Midnight Basketball/Boys and Girls Clubs Out of Town Trips are no longer the norm. That being said, we must find a way that kids from across the city work together with professionals (artists/engineers/IT Folks, whom also could provide mentorships!! Which would further expand experiences for seniors who are still undecided about what to do after High School) to own their lives instead of claiming a “HOOD”. Making them responsible for something this manageable, taking them away from the familiar setting of their neighborhoods, and working with kids their age from all over the city would be great for the COMMUNITY… Hey, I am an optimist… I’ve seen things that grow bring people from all walks of life together.

    • wdc

      Most schools around here have a garden on site. But they don’t all use the produce. My kids’ school makes a big deal of having the kids pick the vegetables, and then spend time in the kitchen seeing how it’s incorporated into their school lunches. But it’s more common for school lunches to be delivered by the gov’t contracted mass-producers, so even if there is food grown in the school garden, there isn’t any use for it.
      And while I agree that it’s logical to think that growing fresh produce would reduce costs, I encourage you to read The $64 Tomato, by William Alexander. Getting a usable quantity of food out of little urban gardens is kind of unrealistic. And it costs a lot more than the price of seeds and labor.

      • victoria

        Haven’t read that book, but I have an average/small rowhouse backyard. It does get full sun, and I have done some work to make raised beds, (but actually not all that much – I am kind of lazy!) but on average, I grow enough food – greens, peas, beans, squash, tomatoes – to feed 2 people fresh veggies for 6 months or more, (in mild winters I have arugula year round) and to give away to friends lots more episodically when the squash, greens, tomatoes go crazy. Also, I freeze plenty (kale, spinach, squash etc.)

  • Anon

    I could actually see this working better in DC’s suburbs. Immigrants are more interested in eating fresh produce, and won’t consider it beneath them to pick it themselves.

  • Autoexec.bat

    Coming next season on Portlandia…

  • skeptical

    This would be a tone-deaf “derelicte” novelty for someone’s trust-funded selfie stick to Insta on WeThePeopleDC. That’s all.

    The money spent on this would achieve more, real good if it went toward delivering fresh fruits to needy families in DC’s food deserts. Or subsidizing a few strategically placed grocery stores. Or increasing the existing program of ready-made fresh veggie/fruit baskets for SNAP families at DC farmers markets.

  • Am

    There have been a number of small orchards planted on public properties in DC. Please keep in mind that as cool as this NYC thing is ($$$) producing food isn’t as easy as planting and walking away.


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