Combining public art and environmental preservation, The Open Orchard will be a vast new artwork by Sam Van Aken on Governors Island in NYC.
It will take the form of an orchard of 50 fruit trees, each containing multiple varieties of peaches, plums, apricots, cherries and apples. These varieties were once common in the NYC region and important to its history as an agricultural center but have completely disappeared due to climate change, the industrialization of agriculture and rise of monocultures (growing just a single crop or plant species, increasing the risk it could be completely wiped out by disease).
The Open Orchard brings these native varieties back to life as living trees and shares them with the public, giving everyone a chance to see and taste fruits that haven’t existed for hundreds of years, and preserving them for future generations.
A visible fixture in one of NYC’s most beloved public spaces, The Open Orchard will be a lasting, living portrait of our agricultural past and an urgent reminder of what has been lost. With your help, we can grow an orchard, an artwork and a community — and literally bring this project to life.
Why is this important?
The Open Orchard goes far beyond being a beautiful (and delicious) resource for NYC. It’s also a gene bank and living archive that works to safeguard biodiversity by preserving hundreds of unique fruit varieties that have otherwise vanished. And this is of critical importance to securing the future of our food supplies and shared environment.
A century ago, the U.S. had over 3,000 distinct varieties of peaches; now that number is under 100. With this staggering loss of biodiversity, we risk losing entire categories of crops and plants, since monocultures are more susceptible to being wiped out by disease. The Open Orchard will keep disease-free, heirloom varieties alive and in the public realm, so they could one day be reintroduced on a larger scale.
Starting this summer, you will be able to engage with the project and these pressing issues through a series of public programs, including tree-grafting workshops, fruit tastings, botanical drawing lessons and blossom tours on Governors Island.
In these ways, The Open Orchard will serve as a model for how to make our agricultural practices more resilient, sustainable and democratic — indeed, more open — a model that could be applied in other places and communities around the globe.
How will the orchard work?
To create the orchard, Sam will use an ancient process called “grafting” to combine branches from different tree species onto a single rootstock. Since the seed of a fruit tree is a genetic variant (not an exact copy), grafting is the only way to preserve a specific species for the future.
Approximately 200 of these hybrid trees are currently growing in a nursery on Governors Island; with your help, 50 of those trees can be planted as a permanent orchard on the Island. The remaining 150 trees will be given away to community gardens and organizations in all five boroughs, allowing even more communities to engage in the project as it puts down roots across the city.
About the artist
Sam Van Aken combines new technologies with traditional modes of art-making to create projects that cross boundaries and engage public spaces. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, receiving numerous honors including a Joan Mitchell Award, an International Association of Art Critics Award and a Creative Capital Grant. He is currently the Graduate Program Coordinator for the School of Art at Syracuse University. In 2019, his work will be featured in the Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial.
About Governors Island
Governors Island is a 172-acre island in the heart of New York Harbor nestled between Lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn waterfront. A former military installation closed to the public for nearly two centuries, the Island has been transformed over the last decade into popular seasonal destination open to the public May 1–October 31. An award-winning new park engineered for climate resilience is complemented by dozens of unique historic buildings, educational and cultural facilities, a rich arts and culture program and a 22-acre National Monument managed by the National Park Service.
Since opening to the public in 2005, Governors Island has played a unique role in New York City’s cultural landscape, providing a one-of-a-kind platform for artists, cultural organizations and educators to create groundbreaking and experiential programming free and open to the public. Public art commissions have strengthened the Island’s capacity to connect groundbreaking contemporary artworks in an accessible, natural environment to an ever-growing audience.
What will your contribution support?
Your contributions will go directly toward growing the trees in the nursery and planting them on the Island to create The Open Orchard, as well as their ongoing care. In addition, funds from the campaign and elsewhere will be used to support free, public programming, including grafting workshops, fruit tastings and culinary events.
To create an orchard that belongs to everyone, we need to rally together. This is a project that will thrive on the energy of a large and diverse community of invested participants, and we see Kickstarter as a key way to build this community from the ground up. We hope you will join us in helping it grow.
Collection of historical recipes ($25)
Receive a digital collection of historical recipes featuring fruits from The Open Orchard, compiled by the artist and sent straight to your inbox, plus updates on the project as it grows.
Heirloom peach seeds ($50)
Grow your own peach tree with this packet of heirloom Lovell Peach seeds. This type of peach was used to create the rootstock that forms the basis for the trees in The Open Orchard. The seeds come packaged in a custom muslin bag with growing and care instructions written by the artist. Plant them to grow a tree that is ready for grafting, or simply enjoy the peaches it produces, which can be eaten fresh, or preserved by drying or canning. (These seeds can be started indoors and moved outside after June 1. They ripen the third and fourth week of September in New York.)
Make your own tree ($100)
Learn how to graft fruit trees in this invitation-only workshop led by Sam Van Aken on Governors Island. The tree you create can be taken home and planted, or donated to a community garden in the five boroughs to help the project grow.
Donate a tree ($500)
Help The Open Orchard spread to all five boroughs by donating a tree from the project nursery on Governors Island to a community garden in NYC, and you'll receive a photo of the tree and a history of the fruits it contains.
Adopt a tree ($1,000)
Adopt a tree in The Open Orchard nursery on Governors Island, and your name (or any name you choose) will be written on a metal tree tag and safely attached to one of its branches. You will also receive a photo of the tree in bloom and the history of the fruits it contains.
"Grafted" tree tag print ($1,250)
Pick up a limited-edition print of original collages by Sam Van Aken, created through a process of splicing together different tree tags. You have a choice of four designs, each 16 x 20 inches (ships unframed). Includes the "Adopt a tree" reward above.
Original botanical drawing ($5,000)
Collect an original etching by Sam Van Aken inspired by the fruit varieties in The Open Orchard. Each etching is accompanied by a letterpress print telling the history of the varieties represented. Also includes the "Adopt a tree" reward above. The first backer at this level gets first pick, the second backer second pick, etc. Pledge early to ensure you get your favorite!
Handcrafted NYC tree ($10,000)
Claim this reward, and Sam Van Aken will make a tree just for you and plant it at your home or in a location of your choosing within 100 miles of NYC. Available in either apple or cherry varieties, these handcrafted trees contain multiple, heirloom and rare fruits that originated in the NYC region and tell the story of its agricultural history over the last 500 years. The artist will grow your tree in a nursery over the course of a year, and coordinate planting in fall 2020.
Risks and challenges
There are always challenges inherent to a project that involves the cultivation of living trees: from unpredictable weather to how well the trees will adapt to their new home. That said, Sam has been creating hybrid trees – with up to 40 different kinds of fruit – across the country for the last ten years, and Governors Island has a programming team well-versed in producing complex public art projects, as well as an expert horticulture team that can advise on tree care.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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