CULVER CITY, CA -- Call it "guerilla gardening" or "eco-tagging," it may just prove to be one of the most unusual applications of a vending machine. Two young, socially conscious entrepreneurs in California are distributing bulk venders stocked with seeds encased in spherical soil. Vending for 50¢ apiece, consumers are encouraged to toss the "seedbombs" into forgotten urban landscapes -- vacant lots, highway embankments and parking medians -- to grow on their own.
Daniel Phillips and Kim Karlsrud are the green entrepreneurs behind the project. They are co-directors of Commonstudio, based in the Culver City, CA. Using standard Northwestern Super 60 bulk venders that hold 300 seedbombs and explanatory display cards, the niche idea seems to be spreading.
"Kim and I have been doing what we call social design in L.A. for several years now, and are really interested in design projects at the intersection of urban ecology, adaptive re-use and social enterprise," Phillips told VT. "As cities become the preeminent human habitat in the 21st century, the issues of environmental quality, public space and sustainability have emerged as some of the greatest challenges we face. Seedbombs are a great first step in understanding that natural process and urban life are not as distinct as we often think, and that we as individuals have the power and the responsibility to do what we can to make cities better places to live in."
There are presently 40 venders dispensing seedbombs across the country, primarily in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Lawrence, KS. As word spreads, Phillips reports requests from the machines and seedbombs are coming from as far away as Austria and Italy. The machines are finding homes in a surprisingly wide variety of locations, from record stores to farmers' markets, to supermarkets.
The real trick behind the project, Phillips explained, is matching the right seeds to a region's ecotype. Commonstudio has developed seven regional mixes that consist of native wildflower seeds appropriate to every state in the continental U.S. "Our Chicago machine, for example, includes Upland Hog Peanut, Wild White Indigo and Yellow Honeysuckle," Phillips said. "Our California mix has Poppy, Blue Flax, Arroyo Lupine, and Farewell to Spring, among others. You can put any type of seed in the product, and we'd love to start branching out into edible plants for urban agriculture."
Commonstudio is developing a location-aware smartphone app that will allow guerrilla gardeners to geotag and document the seedbombs they've thrown so information about locations can be shared and to identify ideal locations for green intervention.