Combining public art and environmental preservation, The Open Orchard will be an expansive new artwork by Sam Van Aken on Governors Island that takes the form of an orchard of 50 fruit trees. Each individual tree will contain multiple varieties of peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, cherries and apples that were historically grown in the New York City region over the past 500 years but which have been lost to climate change and the industrialization of agriculture.

The Open Orchard brings these native and heirloom varieties back as living trees and shares them with the public, giving everyone a chance to see and taste fruits that, in some cases, haven’t been available for centuries. At the same time, the orchard will serve as a living gene bank, safeguarding biodiversity for future generations.

To create the orchard, Van Aken is using an ancient process called “grafting” to combine branches from different species onto a single tree. Since the seed of a fruit tree is a genetic variant rather than an exact copy, grafting is the only way to preserve a specific species for the future, and this process will allow the orchard to preserve hundreds of unique varieties in just 50 trees.

Approximately 200 of these hybrid trees are currently growing in a nursery on Governors Island, a quarter of which will be planted as a permanent orchard on the Island. The remaining trees will be distributed to community gardens in all five boroughs, allowing even more communities to participate in the artwork as it puts down roots across the city. Free public programming, including grafting workshops and fruit tastings, will begin in 2020. The Open Orchard is expected to be planted later that year.

Stay tuned for updates and more information on this project.

Interested in helping The Open Orchard grow? To support this project or make a donation, email commissions@govisland.org.