Radical gardening is a lot easier than it may sound. You don’t need to be on the frontlines of some protest or on the steps of the Capitol. It requires no more than carrying around little clay clumps filled with native flora. These small clay clumps resemble miniature seed grenades, or seed bombs, that can be tossed into any vacant dirt lot.
The idea of regreening urban spaces was conceived in Brooklyn during the 1960s. White flight from America’s urban centers left many American cities underfunded, vacant and in decay. Poorer residents and POC neighborhoods decided to take on the challenge of preserving their neglected neighborhoods and establishing community gardens, which would not only combat food deserts but also instill a greater sense of investment from the community. Where cities failed, neighborhoods and blocks filled the void.
With the help of residents throwing their seed bombs into neglected empty urban lots, community gardens and regreening projects produced a revitalization of many neighborhoods. This was most evident in New York City where, by the 1980s, activist gardeners established over 1,000 community gardens. With these gardens came youth programs, where kids were taught how to plant and tend gardens. Immigrants brought with them seeds from their countries of origin and soon many neighborhoods were on the verge of being food self-sufficient.
Like any good thing, there will always be those who oppose change or progress. In the 1990s, then NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani decided that the gardens had to go and there would be high rises and garages in their place. Luckily, the gardeners had generations of activists who knew the system and fought back against Giuliani’s attempt to gentrify historic neighborhoods. The radical community gardeners established their neighborhood gardens as protected open spaces by the city and the youth programs and community spaces are preserved to this day.
The radical community gardeners of NYC served as leaders for urban areas around the U.S. The emphasis on community and sustainability have finally made their way to the Southwest. Despite being located in one of the country’s most arid regions, Southwestern cities, particularly Albuquerque, offer surprisingly fertile ground for gardeners and seed bombing.
Victoria Gonzales, a local artist in the Downtown neighborhood and student at UNM, has established herself as one of the leading advocates of seed bombing in Albuquerque. Gonzales was attracted to the approach from her own studies in environmentalism and sustainability. The accessibility of seed bombing inspired her to advocate for the method in her community.
“The big thing of sustainability is accessibility. With the seed bombs, since it’s based on compost, soil, dirt and seeds, it’s something that most people can get their hands on and available to people of low income, which is related to New Mexico,” Gonzales said. Her seed bombs contain natural flora which include Cosmos Marigolds, Calathea Gold Blanket Flowers, Hollyhocks and Poppies.
“So there are different ways you can go about guerilla gardening, you can either just take on abandoned pieces of land and cultivate them into urban gardens or community gardens. Or you can do seed bombing. I think it’s a little bit easier too because they’re smaller and you don’t need a huge clot,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales has also begun to host events to teach community members how to build their own seed bombs. Her first workshop was hosted by Power Plant LLC & 3719 Studio, a coffee shop and studio located in the North Valley.
“We had probably about seven to 10 attendees show up for that. And then we had the part two, which is the seed bombing party. And we tried to kind of mesh it with like a nightclub kind of vibe. So it was like a bombing party. DJ Thumper was playing music for us, we had mocktails. And then we had the seed bombs out for people to either take home or there were areas around the building that you could seed bomb.”
Gonzales’s approach to advocating and educating the community on seed bombing and urban gardening also reflects her views on the methods as well: accessibility. The workshops are fun and laidback and everyone is guaranteed to walk out of one of her events with a handful of seed bombs.
“I think it’s a really quick and convenient and easy way for people to get involved in doing some light growing activities. Even if they’re not like super green or want to do huge gardens or don’t have space in their homes or apartments to do full space gardens, they can find a piece of land and have at least a couple of plants to claim that are theirs,” Gonzales said.
Just don’t get caught seed bombing someone else’s property. That’s illegal. Stick with your own backyard or a vacant lot.
For anyone interested in obtaining seed bombs, Gonzales will have seed bombs available at the El Rey Liquor Store on Seventh and Central. For workshops and updates on local gardening projects, follow Gonzales at @solitaexpressions on Instagram.