GreenAid’s Guerrilla Gumball-Machine Gardening
14 Nov, 2010
The entirely fun, mad concept of guerrilla gardening involves planting gardens on someone else’s land. The term was coined in the 1970s, and at that time involved the use of “seed grenades”—containers (actually condoms) filled with local wildflower seeds, water and fertilizer—which were tossed over fences onto empty lots in New York City in order to beautify neighborhoods.
Today, two young innovators, Daniel Phillips and Kim Karlsrud, who run an interdisciplinary design studio in Los Angeles called COMMONStudio, have combined the concepts of seedbombs and guerrilla gardening with a seemingly unlikely mechanical invention: the gumball machine. The project is called GreenAid, and its popularity is rapidly catching on.
“We were part of a guerrilla gardening group in Los Angeles, but L.A. is so huge that it was a big pain to sync up with others who lived so far away,” Daniel Phillips told Organic Connections. “GreenAid was born partially from that frustration; we wanted to make seedbombs—which are really amazing—more accessible to everybody.”
Kim continued the story. “We had that thought and then my dad, who lived in Pittsburgh and had a hobby with candy machines, moved and donated a bunch of the machines to us. He told us to do something interesting with them.”
The bright idea was then born to load the gumball machines with seedbombs and place them around urban areas. Early in 2010, they placed the first prototype in L.A.’s Chinatown. It all went upward from there.
“It has simply taken off,” Daniel said. “We have about 40 machines in the world right now, mostly in the US—many right here in L.A.—but we’re starting to get a lot of interest internationally. We just did a few machines for Italy, a few for Mexico, and some for Canada as well. It’s been a pretty wild ride, and we’re having a lot of fun.”
GreenAid’s seedbombs are made from a mixture of clay, compost and seeds, and can be used to green up and colorize any unused space that might otherwise be an eyesore. They can be thrown anonymously into derelict urban sites to temporarily reclaim and transform them into places worth looking at and caring for. The clever dispensing method makes these guerrilla gardening efforts more accessible to all by appropriating the existing distribution system of the quarter-operated candy machine. Using the loose coins from a purse or pocket, a person can make a small but meaningful contribution to the beautification of his or her city.
“We like to call our initiative change for change, because if you put 50 cents in the machine, you get a single seedbomb out,” Daniel explained. “Most of our mixtures contain native wildflower seeds. You can plant one in a forgotten corner of the environment, such as a sidewalk crack, a vacant lot or even your own backyard. If it gets a little water, then it will sprout in about three days and become a small mushy pocket of vegetation.”
Daniel and Kim knew it would be important to work within local ecology. “We have conducted a lot of research on plants native to various areas,” Kim pointed out. “We stress that we are very, very careful not to introduce invasive species. We take our time and work closely with different communities to make sure we have the right seed selection.”
GreenAid has several distribution methods. A person or group can purchase their own machine for $375; they can rent the machine and keep it for as long as they like for $75 per month (including seedbomb refill); or they can simply obtain the seedbombs themselves to sell, give away or use. Seedbombs sell for $.25 each.
Daniel and Kim are now looking at the bigger picture of what their GreenAid project could mean for the future. “We’ve recently been in a number of discussions with different organizations that want to reseed abandoned lots that are quite large,” Daniel related. “For example, we’re currently talking to the Culver City [California] Redevelopment Association, which has tons of vacant lots that they really need to find some interim uses for; and they’re starting to realize that seedbomb dispensers are a great way for getting the public involved in temporarily transforming a site that would be otherwise totally useless. That’s really exciting.”
“Our dream down the road is that seedbombs in some capacity could be used for really large-scale interventions for places that have been damaged by natural or manmade disasters, such as wildfires and floods,” Kim said. “There’s plenty of opportunity, and we’re thinking a bit larger scale and longer term about partnering with different organizations to fit seedbombs into existing missions of what other people are doing across the world.”
For more information on COMMONStudio and the GreenAid project, visit the website at www.thecommonstudio.com.