A Forest Floats

In a South Bronx forest, the ground sways as visitors collect blueberries, onions and wild carrots. The plants bob up and down as guests gather oregano or basil to add to their next meal. The floating forest on the Bronx River has one main purpose: to engage New Yorkers in a conversation about the benefits of shared, public food by offering crops to pick and eat.

“Not everyone has a garden, or access to earth, and it’s expensive. So how do we work together to get around that?” said Marisa Prefer, who manages the public programs for Swale, the floating forest project by the artist Mary Mattingly that started a year ago.

The artist transformed a 130-foot barge, once used for hauling sand to construction sites, into a public food forest with free edible and medicinal treasures. Last week, the floating green space moved from Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park to Concrete Plant Park in the South Bronx, one of the largest food deserts in the country, where healthy, fresh options are hard to come by, and on Friday afternoon it opened to the public.

“We’re trying to talk about food access, food security and food justice, and what those three things mean,” Ms. Prefer said. “What do they mean in New York City? What do they mean in the South Bronx? What do they mean in Brooklyn?”

One way to start that dialogue: Rent an empty barge from a marina in Verplanck, N.Y.; load it with soil, gravel and plants; anchor it at locations around the five boroughs; and invite people to harvest unlimited fruits, vegetables and perennials — free

The Swale project found a loophole. Backed by the city’s parks department, the floating forest circumvents rules about foraging on public land because technically, it is on the water.

“Swale does not fall under that rubric, so it would be the only place that you can, within a New York City public space, do this activity,” said Mr. Gunther, adding that although community gardens may permit growing and harvesting food, they are run by neighborhood groups and local residents, and are not always open to the public.