Urban activists assist cash-strapped cities with seed bombs

The little round balls made of red terra-cotta clay, as police at a World Trade Organization protest a few years back learned, are not bombs. At least, not in the traditional sense. Neighborhood groups and truly "grass-roots" activists around the country are taking back abandoned properties and derelict strips of public lands through little balls made of clay, compost and seeds.

Although the process is great for highway medians, denuded parking strips, industrial areas and vacant lots, the rise in home foreclosures and the general increasing interest in creating lush urban spaces with nutritious plants for bees and other beneficial insects means that local activists could be throwing bombs -- I mean, balls -- in their neighbor's yards, too.

On the blog Path to Freedom, a proponent of local eating and growing your own food, instructions for seed balls are preambled with the reason the Dervaes family first made them: "We sow the balls in winter in our next-door neighbor's yard. They had a long piece of bare ground adjacent to our garden that was full of weeds and Bermuda grass *yuck*"

Will throwing seed balls into your neighbor's yard make friends? Maybe, or maybe not. But it's certainly a better way of changing the world with your kids than holding homemade signs and chanting angry slogans for hours in organized protests, or making a formal complaint about an invasive-weed-ridden yard to the city. Better guerrilla gardening with seed "bombs" (even if some of them end up getting exploded by frightened police) than just about any other kind of impassioned aggression.

In my neighborhood, I'm plotting a mix of calendula, sunflower and kale seeds; Path to Freedom suggests wildflower, radish and mustard. And according to Michael Freedman-Schnapp, one of the co-chairs of Neighbors Allied for Good Growth -- the Brooklyn group profiled in the NPR story -- it's not just about spreading the environmental love, but also about helping out cash-strapped local governments. "We are at the end of a development boom, and it is clear that the city's resources are going to be constrained," he says. "They are not going to be able to take care of everywhere in the city. And so the city is going to have to rely on citizens stepping up and taking care of their own surroundings."

Will cities everywhere soon be relying on groups surreptitiously tossing seeds-not-bombs around their neighborhood to do their "dirty" work of caring for public spaces? It sounds like a good idea to me.
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