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Please review our health & safety protocols prior to your visit: https://www.govisland.com/visit-the-island

Sam Van Aken’s The Open Orchard comes to life to restore biodiversity


Climate change impacts ecosystems in ways that might not be visible if you don’t know what to look for. Species and habitats can disappear without making a sound.

Sam Van Aken, a sculptor and multidisciplinary artist who is the Graduate Program Coordinator for the School of Art at Syracuse University, wants to reintroduce us to what we don’t know we’ve lost. Climate change and industrialized agriculture have reduced the biodiversity of plant life in the United States to a shocking degree. While a century ago the U.S. boasted over 3,000 distinct varieties of peach tree, there are now under 100. In his new project, The Open Orchard, Van Aken seeks to restore and preserve some of New York’s lost biodiversity and all its delicious benefits. The Open Orchard will plant 50 hybridized trees on Governors Island, each one bearing multiple varieties of peaches, plums, apricots, cherries and apples once native to the area but that have since disappeared. His vision for the project combines artistic expression and environmental stewardship into a sprawling public artwork that’s also a shared resource for generations to come.

The ancient art of tree grafting, which Van Aken uses to create his hybrid trees, involves stitching multiple fruit tree varieties together into a single tree that bears different fruit on each of its grafted branches. The results are not only beautiful and delicious (trees bursting with rainbows of flowers and yielding entire fruit salads) but an ingenious way to preserve vanishing fruit varieties. Van Aken is already growing 200 of these trees in a nursery on Governors Island. When The Open Orchard is planted over the next few years, 50 of them will remain on the Island to create the artwork, which doubles as a fully functioning orchard, and 150 will be distributed to community gardens across the city to spread the benefits of the project and further safeguard the included varieties.

We launched a Kickstarter campaign to help us bring The Open Orchard to life, and we hit our funding goal! We’ve introduced a stretch goal to donate 100 more trees to NYC community gardens. Learn more and help us plant the seeds of this remarkable, vital project here. Thank you to everyone who has backed the project so far!