Greenaid turns vintage gumball machines into seedbomb dispensers

Urban eco designers create new tool for guerilla gardening

File this one under “random but brilliant.” Commonstudio, an emerging design practice and consultancy, has begun distributing gumball dispensers converted to hold seedbombs.

If you’re new to the idea of seedbombing, here’s some background. You’ve seen those “gray” spaces in cities — empty lots where buildings were torn down and derelict parking spaces, for example. With cash-starved governments unable to revitalize abandoned areas, an increasing number of green thinkers are taking matters into their own hands, discreetly planting flowers on unused land.

Seedbombs, an essential part of the guerilla gardener’s arsenal, are nothing more than clay, compost, and seeds. Slingshot them onto an empty lot, wait for them to break down, and watch the plants retake a forgotten urban void.

Here’s how Greenaid will help:

You can purchase or rent a machine (or two, or ten…) directly from us and we will develop a seed mix as well as a strategic neighborhood intervention plan in response to the unique ecologies of your area. You then simply place the machine at your local bar, business, school, park, or anywhere that you think it can have the most impact. We will then supply you with all the seedbombs you need to support the continued success of the initiative.

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Can’t find a Greenaid dispenser near you? Don’t despair! Just follow these steps to make your own seedbombs. You only need clay, water, compost, and (of course) seeds to get started with greening the gray space in your community.


Green Indie Products of the Month: Recycled Art, Hand-carved Furniture, and Wool Hats with a Mission

This is part of a series of monthly posts featuring sustainable and independent brands from around the web. If you want to see your favorite indie seller on the Green Lens, get in touch via the contact page or @thegreenlens.

Recycled Mixed Media Art by Dolan Geiman

Chicago artist Dolan Geiman uses salvaged wood and found objects to create pieces that are at once rustic and cutting-edge. His “contemporary art with a Southern accent” has earned him national recognition and high-profile clients, such as Fossil.








Geiman’s “greenness” is rooted in an authentic DIY ethic:

Incorporating eco-friendly practices into our business has been a natural process since its inception. For Dolan, the idea of taking things and repurposing them was an ideological current passed down from generation to generation for a family living in a rural community. Years later, having moved to Chicago with a few bucks and a car-load of artwork and supplies, the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ mantra was a similar economic reality for an emerging artist and burgeoning arts company.

Interpretive Furniture by Gray Works Design

Andrew Gray and Elizabeth Bryant run a woodworking shop in the Catskill Mountain town of Bearsville. Like Dolan Geiman’s constructions, Andrew Gray’s hand-carved  bowls, tables, and plates have a sense with timeless craftsmanship. The handmade style doesn’t come cheap, but each piece is a unique work of art.

In an article on the Etsy blog, Andrew and Elizabeth said their sustainable values are inspired the setting in which they work:

Our love of place informs the objects we create, as well as our strong sense of responsibility to cultivate an environmentally sustainable company. We owe everything to the wilderness where we live and work, so protecting and supporting it is our highest priority.


Reclaimed Wool Hats by Bricologable



Bricologable is the project of a San Francisco crafter “with an underutilized degree in history and an oddly applied degree in fashion design.” The limited edition hats featured in the online shop are made from reclaimed wool, and, better still, 10 percent of the profits go to Muttville, a charity that rescues and advocates for senior dogs.

Green Entrepreneur Ted Nordquist Brings a Sustainable Philosophy to the Business World (Part 2)

This is the second part of my interview with WholeSoy founder Ted A. Nordquist. (You can read Part 1 here.) In addition to running his soy yogurt company, Mr. Nordquist serves on the technical advisory board for the Non-GMO Project. So it’s not surprising that a large part of the discussion focused on the risks and ethics of genetically engineered foods.

GMO stands for genetically modified organism, a life form created by combining genes that would not come together in nature.

“The best example is a tomato that is resistant to frost,” Nordquist says. To create this plant, “[biotech researchers] take a gene from the DNA of an arctic fish that is cold-resistant and inject it into the DNA of a tomato plant. But the tomato plant DNA won’t accept the gene, so they take a virus called a marker gene,  attach it to the fish gene, and shoot it into the DNA of the tomato plant.”

While people have been hybridizing plants for centuries, genetic engineering is different. Using traditional breeding methods, you could combine separate tomato plants to produce a desired characteristic, such as larger fruit. But you couldn’t combine a fish with a tomato.

Genetic engineering is a way of breaking the rules, or “reprogramming the operating system of nature,” as Nordquist puts it. Because this form of genetics is relatively new, its consequences are largely unknown.

The problem, Nordquist says, is that DNA is extremely complex (one strand has enough information to fill the Library of Congress), and researchers don’t completely understand its workings. Many people, including Nordquist, believe there is not enough evidence to declare genetically engineered food safe. “It’s a huge human experiment.”

Due to the uncertainty surrounding GMOs, several countries have banned or restricted them, and the European Union requires GMO foods to be labeled. But no such measures have been passed in the United States, thanks to lobbying by the biotech industry.

What advantages do GMO plants offer? In many cases, they can increase productivity. For instance, a farmer who plants herbicide-resistant corn can spray Roundup on his fields without killing the crop. GM has also been used to make vegetables more nutritious and to give them a longer shelf life.

Even for farmers, GMOs have their downsides. When using conventional plants, a farmer can collect the seeds and replant them year after year. However, Nordquist explains that this is not possible with GMO plants, because the engineered organisms are considered the property of the company that invented them. No one else has the right to reproduce the “name-brand” plant varieties.

“What [biotech companies] are after,” Nordquist warns, “is control of the food chain.” If the industry keeps progressing the way it is, “someday in the future, some guys in black suits will show up at a small Asian farm and tell the farmer that he has to pay them a dollar an acre, or they will sue him” because he is planting a seed they created.

The power to change the GMO situation lies in the hands of consumers. That is why groups like the Non-GMO Project are working to educate shoppers. The Non-GMO project is also pioneering a labeling system for certified GMO-free foods.

Third-party certification is an important tool for buyers that want to support Non-GMO foods. Many people do not realize that up to 90 percent of corn and 92 percent of soybean acreage in the U.S. is genetically modified. And the “USDA organic” sticker does not necessarily indicate a GMO-free product.

After discussing the concrete issues of green business and genetic engineering, Nordquist returns to philosophy—a subject with which he seems fittingly comfortable.

“The only way people will be able to survive on the planet,” he says, “is if they can come in contact with their fundamental natural essence, a sense of comfort, being at peace with themselves.”

It is this deeper sense of nature than makes Nordquist stand out among other green business leaders. For him, social responsibility isn’t just a buzzword. He is committed to sustainability because he believes it’s the right thing to do—and he isn’t afraid to say so.

Nordquist closes with a hopeful message for the future: “Everyone has inside them the essential program that runs the universe. If people become one with that innate essence, that essence of love and joy… everything will be all right.”

Where Gardening & Social Media Come Together: Interview with Lisa Finerty of

I recently had the chance to interview Lisa Marini Finerty, co-founder of a new social network called YourGardenShow.  Instead of giving you all the details upfront, I’ll let Lisa describe the site herself.  She also shares some insight on gardening and its relation to the environmental movement.

The Green Lens: First of all, tell us what YourGardenShow is all about.

Lisa Marini Finerty: is a free social network for gardeners to record and share gardening experiences in a fun, easy and intuitive way. We want to give gardeners a way to spread their green thumb wisdom. I’m a master gardener and a co-founder of the website along with my husband Tom, an Emmy-Award winning producer.

There is a new audience for environmental advocacy; with the worldwide recognition of  “An Inconvenient Truth,’ we have seen increasing numbers of people who recognize that good stewardship of the planet can’t be kicked down the road to subsequent generations.  First-time gardeners interviewed last year in England came to gardening, yes, for personal benefits like better, less costly food — but even more came for better environmental health of the planet.

YourGardenShow is a community where people can exchange information about growing successfully, using best practices. We believe in crowd sourcing information, but we have seeded the site with the best data we could obtain.

Our website features an expansive 6,000 vegetable database developed by Cornell University and a 5,900 ornamental plant database powered by Missouri Botanical Garden, one of the oldest botanical gardens in the U.S.A. There is editorial strategy in deciding which topics to introduce – we have sustainability experts who have authored the plant databases and care instructions, we have sustainability professionals in charge of media responsibility, and our advisory board and founders include committed environmental activists — some for over 35 years. We believe that we will be valuable if we can magnify the influence of good practitioners in addition to good practices.

Gardening can be done as an individual, but when reinforced by a group or community, such as a community garden, or now with YourGardenShow, it becomes more enjoyable and deepens the experience and commitment.

How can your site benefit people trying to green their lifestyles?

The best resource we all have is human experience — our own and others’ — and the combination of people and tools on will hopefully result in more and deeper conversations between more and more experienced learners about the land that they steward.  We believe that more and better gardeners mean better public health for all of us.

How does your site help beginning gardeners?  What about more experienced gardeners?

Gardening is one of the most profound areas of literature — it spans the continuum from the absolutely traditional (“doing it the way it was done from time immemorial”) to the most innovative, where scientists are combining genes to “patent” plants.  The first recorded observations of horticulture began 3500 years BC, and they haven’t stopped. YourGardenShow is a platform that can be used by both ends of the traditional to innovative spectrum.

My husband and I live in an area of Italy where people had to live by their agricultural wits during most of the 20th century; they have a lot of lessons about sustainability to impart! In our village in Italy for example, we have a festival which celebrates eating bread after WWII – which keeps vivid among the new generation the memory of the preciousness of food.

We wanted to find a way to record the secrets of local gardeners and farmers who might not otherwise have a way to document their legacy. But we realized that gardeners with local secrets exist everywhere, and we needed to build a community that would not only respect local wisdom but would also want to record it.

What kind of role do you think social media play in the sustainability movement?

People will continue to seek to find and participate in trusted communities — for their work, their recreation, their consumption of all things.

Gardening continues to be popular despite our increasingly busy lifestyles.  How do you explain that?

There is something perpetual that you tap into when you interact with plants. Gardening is as creative an art form as there is, from the start and as it evolves. We especially need this outlet in a busy world.

Finally, do you have some gardening tips you’d like to share with us?

One of the interesting aspects of gardening is phenology, which links a sequence observation of the natural world to timing of agricultural occurrence. “Plant corn when the daylilies bloom” or “target crabgrass when the forsythia blooms” is about the phenomena at a certain soil temperature. Phenology is what people use who don’t otherwise have measuring tools — like thermometers, calendars — or written records.  It is what the Old Farmer’s Almanac tracks. These phenology sayings are great since they teach folks to observe relationships in nature.  The more of us observing what is going on in the natural world around us, the better we will be prepared to recognize and adjust to a changing environment.

Many thanks to Lisa and the rest of the YourGardenShow team for providing the Green Lens’s first interview!

Anyone else with an innovative green project they’d like to share, is welcome to send me a message.

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California Adopts U.S.’s First Mandatory Green Building Code

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

This month, California adopted the nation’s first statewide green building codes.  Dubbed “Calgreen,” these codes are expected to help the state achieve its goal of cutting CO2 emissions by one third by 2020.  According to the New York Times, every new building in California will have to “reduce water usage by 20 percent and recycle 50 percent of its construction waste instead of sending it to landfills… Mandatory inspections of air conditioner, heat and mechanical equipment will be also be instituted for all commercial buildings over 10,000 square feet.”

To help offset the increased construction costs, developers will not have to receive certification from third parties like the U.S. Green Building Council.  The price of a new home will still increase, but since many of the standards save money as well as energy, the codes may result in an overall savings.  They will definitely produce a net drop in carbon pollution — about three million metric tons by 2020.

That California was the first state to adopt these codes isn’t surprising.  Hopefully, they will prove successful, and other states will follow suit.  Since buildings account for a large amount of our energy use, increasing their efficiency is just common sense.