One Big Idea To Grow One Billion Wildflowers With Seedles
What started as a family stroll past a vacant lot quickly turned into an idea—an idea that grew into an experiment, and an experiment that blossomed into a product that could truly change the world. And in some ways, already has. Meet Seedles, the fun and vibrant way to grow wildflowers just about anywhere. To learn more about the idea, it’s creation and importance we spoke with Chris Burley who, along with partner and wife Ei Ei and son Orion created Seedles to grow one billion wildflowers and help save the dwindling honeybee population.
VHC: First things first, what are Seedles and how do they work?
CB: Seedles are a fun and easy way to grow wildflowers and help bring back the bees. Basically we make colorful little seed bombs from organic compost, worm castings, clay and native wildflower seeds. When you toss them on the ground and give them a bit of water, they sprout into wildflowers that will feed the bees!
Photo Credit: Angela Johnston
What inspired you to create the very first Seedle?
As we strolled through the Laurel district, our neighborhood and home in Oakland, my wife Ei Ei and I would delight in the variety of smells, tastes and rich colors peeking out onto the sidewalks and tickling our ankles. Some neighbors had drought tolerant landscaping, some had a few fruit trees, but most had that sad-looking strip of urban grass desperately imitating a little nature amidst a city built on cement. There were also plenty of unused plots of earth here and there. As an avid urban farmer, I couldn’t help but imagine the possibilities for these spots if given just a bit of attention. As the gears in my brain started turning Ei Ei brought up seed balls. After 6 years of being together we were often on the same wavelength. She said, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we tossed seed balls in all of these lifeless spots . . . seed balls with wildflower seeds or vegetable seeds in them?” I kept walking, and daydreaming, and then it hit me. If we could make seed balls fun and easy people would want to plant them! We were inspired to create Seedles in that moment to help people beautify their neighborhoods and help create clean food for the bees.
Why is it so important to help stabilize the honeybee population and how will Seedles help do that?
Right now bees are facing a dangerous cocktail of challenges, making life for the hive more difficult than in the past. Approximately 30-40% of the honeybee populations (we’re not even including the native populations) are dying year-over-year. Current research points to causes that include pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, limited nectar and pollen sources, varroa mites and some (not all) industrial bee keeping practices. When ONE in every THREE bites of our food is the result of pollination by bees, it’s time to stand up for their well-being. Can you imagine a world without raspberries, coffee, and watermelons? Read that one more time . . . a world without coffee? Gasp! As foodies, environmental stewards, and new parents, this issue was near and dear to our hearts. Planting clean food for the bees is the number one way each person can make a difference in helping bring back the bees and stabilize their populations. We also recommend people to stop using pesticides, herbicides and fungicides in their own gardens and lawns as well as speaking up to their neighbors. We heard a story recently of a backyard beekeeper who lost half of their hive because a neighbor sprayed one of their fruit trees during the blossoming period.
Did you approach the project hoping to expand on it, or was it simply a way for you and your family to have and make a difference?
Initially we felt inspired by our son Orion who was born in late 2013, we wanted to help others plant one million wildflowers as a way to leave the planet a better place for his generation. It wasn’t long after we launched the Kickstarter campaign that people started telling us to show up on Shark Tank, and turn this into a full social enterprise. And so after seeing the incredible response we received, we decided to go for it.
Pardon the pun, but when did you first realize your idea really had room to grow?
Our Grow The Rainbow campaign on Kickstarter was our first public debut. We received a ton of great feedback, however it wasn’t until almost a year later when a few blogs such as KQED, Inhabitat and Inhabitots picked us up that we really started getting a flood of orders. There was no turning back then, we really felt we were on to something much bigger than our own initial idea.
At what moment did you realize your mission to grow one million wild flowers was a real possibility?
From day one I wanted to strive for something audacious. A million sounded like a nice round number and challenging, but achievable. After our Kickstarter campaign ended, we totaled the orders and realized we had already reached our goal. So then we did what any other environmentally minded family would do … we upped the goal to ONE BILLION wildflowers. :)
How did you come up with the Seedle name?
From the beginning our focus has been activating our younger generation. I’ve met quite a few adults who are so busy making ends meet, they have little time to care for much other than their own lives and families. We wanted to create a name and product that magnetized kids and in turn was fun for adults as well. Seedles was fun to say, and it just felt right to my wife and I.
How many batches of Seedles did you go through before perfecting your ratio of clay, seed, soil, and color pop?
A lot. Maybe over 50 if I had to guess. When we were working on the color recipe our kitchen looked like a bunch of wild unicorns had a wild and rambunctious new years party. Colors everywhere, splatters of different homemade paints on the cupboards, the floors, the windows. It was really a mad science experiment around our home for a while, but it is so much fun to be creative. Our seed bombs recipe has evolved quite a bit over time, we didn’t get it right at first and many of our first seed bombs ended up too hard. We’re now seeing a 99% germination rate with most Seedles sprouting 5-10 sprouts when the conditions are right.
You currently produce each Seedle by hand, what are some of the challenges that presents?
We currently make them using a seed ball machine our team has engineered, and you can read more about that in this Collectively post. With that said, creating each Seedle is only one part of the whole process. We use the sun to dry them, we paint them, and we also package and ship them. It’s a lot for such a small team. Manufacturing a green product has been a joy and a pain in the butt at times. We’re not the type of organization who would outsource our idea to a more affordable manufacturing location, we do it all ourselves, which takes time, patience and lots of hard work. The biggest challenge is managing the supply and demand. Some days we get 3-4 orders, and some days we get over 250 orders … so we’re not always able to keep up with the demand. At this time we are building the right systems so we can meet the upcoming holiday and 2016 demand we see coming.
Are there plans to expand Seedles to other plant varieties?
Yes! We have lots of creative ideas here at Seedles HQ. We’re currently in development of three new varieties, a Butterfly and Hummingbird Mix, a Dry Area Mix, and an Edible Flowers Mix. We are also going to be releasing many single species wildflower seeds such as Texas Bluebonnet, Blue Flax, Indian Blanketflower, and Milkweed(for the Monarch butterflies). Finally, we have an idea for another Seedles-like product that quite possibly will dwarf the current demand for Seedles Wildflowers.
What else can people do (aside from spreading some joy with Seedles!) to help the dwindling bee population?
Awesome question! One of the easiest ways you can help the bees is providing them a consistent source of clean drinking water. Bees can travel up to 2 miles in all directions from their hive, and so they get a little tired and thirsty buzzing around all day. You can visit our blog post about why honey bees need water to learn more about how you can help them fill up their tank.
To learn more about Seedles or make a purchase, visit GrowTheRainbow.com