The Open Orchard

by Sam Van Aken

Com­bin­ing pub­lic art and envi­ron­men­tal preser­va­tion, The Open Orchard is an expan­sive new art­work on Gov­er­nors Island by Sam Van Aken and com­mis­sioned through Gov­er­nors Island Arts. Tak­ing the form of a pub­lic orchard com­prised of 102 fruit trees, The Open Orchard acts as a liv­ing archive for antique and heir­loom fruit vari­eties that were grown in and around New York City in the past 400 years but have most­ly dis­ap­peared due to cli­mate change and the indus­tri­al­iza­tion of agriculture. 

The fruit vari­eties present in The Open Orchard all are indige­nous to, orig­i­nat­ed in, or have been his­tor­i­cal­ly grown in New York City. Using a unique graft­ing process, Van Aken com­bines mul­ti­ple fruit vari­eties into a sin­gle tree — so dif­fer­ent vari­eties grow along­side one anoth­er. Beyond their aes­thet­ic appeal, these hybrid trees under­take the crit­i­cal work of pre­serv­ing rare fruit vari­eties in a safe envi­ron­ment, pro­vid­ing a road map for inno­v­a­tive tech­niques to main­tain vital bio­di­ver­si­ty in the face of a chang­ing climate. 

As part of this mon­u­men­tal project, near­ly 100 addi­tion­al trees are being donat­ed and plant­ed in com­mu­ni­ty gar­dens through­out the five bor­oughs in part­ner­ship with NYC Parks Green­Thumb, the largest com­mu­ni­ty gar­den­ing pro­gram in the Unit­ed States. In addi­tion, The Open Orchard includes a range of pub­lic pro­grams, includ­ing a con­tin­ued work­shop series, talks and per­for­mances, fruit tast­ings, har­vest events, culi­nary lessons and more. 

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

The Open Orchard is made pos­si­ble through the gen­er­ous sup­port of The Gottes­man Fund, Cha­ri­na Endow­ment Fund, Stavros Niar­chos Foun­da­tion, Nation­al Endow­ment for the Arts, Lily Auch­in­closs Foun­da­tion, Sleepy Cat Farm Foun­da­tion and Dorothea L. Leon­hardt Foun­da­tion. Addi­tion­al land­scape sup­port is gen­er­ous­ly pro­vid­ed by BrightView.

Acknowl­edg­ing the ances­tral land and agri­cul­tur­al prac­tices of Pagganck’s (Gov­er­nors Island) First Peo­ples, the Lenape, the Open Orchard returns the native fruit vari­eties essen­tial to Lenape cul­ture and respects the Lenape land use phi­los­o­phy where a tree like all of Lenape­hok­ing is com­mon­ly held with one only com­ing to be gift­ed the fruit from its branches.