An Interview with Seedles’ Co-Founder Chris Burley

Hipcamp’s landsharing program turned six months this winter, and we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than to say thanks to all of the landowners who’ve helped turn our dream into reality. We thought about sending everyone cake (too messy), stationary (too boring), and pet rocks (just no), and eventually settled on the awesomest gift of all: seed bombs.

What are seed bombs? They’re native wildflower seeds embedded in a mixture of compost and clay and biodegradable paint—just toss them in your yard and voila: beautiful native plants pop up in Spring.

So we partnered with Seedles, a Bay Area seed-bomb company, to send each of our landowners a seed bomb thank-you package specific to their region that will raise both their garden cred and local pollinator population.

Beyond getting us stoked for the wildflowers of the future, our project made us really curious about the story behind these little balls of biodiversity. So we asked Chris Burley, one of Seedles’ co-founders, a few questions.

Hipcamp: Was there a particular moment when the idea for Seedles crystallized?

Chris: Yes! It was like magic. My partner Ei Ei and I were walking around our neighborhood in the Laurel district of Oakland. Between the intermittent lush landscapes of a few of our neighbors were plenty of unkempt, unactivated, and unused plots of earth. As an avid gardener, urban farmer and permaculturist I couldn’t help but imagine the possibilities these spots could become if given just a bit of attention. And it wasn’t just Oakland, I’d seen the same growing up in Michigan.

Being the geek that I am, I remembered victory gardens produced up to 40 percent of the vegetables consumed during the course of World War II. I kept strolling and imagined what else they could produce. 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 ruminating. It was the kind of thinking we all fall into during those moments when our brain and bodies are just activated enough to cause that peaceful state of daydreaming. Then it hit me. If we could make seed balls fun and easy people would be more likely to want to plant them. Boom! The idea for Seedles was born.

H: What interactions can you envision between camping and seed-bombing?

C: Plenty of them. For starters, I’ve been dreaming of a bubble gum machine like stand at the major entrances to all local, state and national parks. This little dispenser would be filled with colorful Seedles just waiting to be tossed around the landscape as hikers, campers, and walkers meander about in nature. Then, when the fall and spring rains come, these little seed bombs would burst with seedlings and set the stage for a jaw-dropping display of colorful wildflowers in the spring and summer months. Of course the seeds would need to be as local as possible and native species to ensure we’re not introducing flowers that would out-compete the native plants. I also could imagine campers being stocked by the park rangers with seed bombs when they check in for overnight or backcountry backpacking trips.

H: What has the reception been to Seedles within the outdoor industry so far?

C: We have tons of people who love to toss them around town in vacant lots, derelict spaces, backyards that need some love, and bigger meadows. Mostly homeowners who want to do something positive for the bees and have the space to make things happen. The outdoor industry hasn’t been a big client of ours YET! I’m hoping they move from “leaving no trace” to “leaving a positive trace” by dropping Seedles everywhere.

H: What natural landscapes most inspire you in your work?

C: Well, Seedles are inspired by nature. Specifically most grazing or berry-loving animals consume seeds. They then go through the stomach where sometimes they are digested, but many times the seeds are just stripped of their protective coating. They then come out the back side in a little pellet form, perfect for sprouting.

Beyond that lovely imagery, we find our family on the coasts of California, the old growth redwoods, and meandering through Oak and Pine forests in the sierras. I like to sit a lot in nature and just observe, because it’s got about 3.8 billion years of experience … and I might learn a thing or two!

H: Do you have any advice for budding outdoor enthusiasts trying their hand at social entrepreneurship?

C: Start now. Fail quickly, start again. The best way to learn is to do it and ask for help along the way. As MLK Jr. says “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” Oh, and call me … I’m more than happy to support as best I can.

H: Any favorite places to go camping?

C: Yes, anywhere with forests. I loooooove the forests. Dinkey Creek Campground near Fresno has a wonderful swimming hole and you can fish there too! Grouse Ridge Campground up near Tahoe, with my favorite lake Downey Lake … sooo peaceful! Also, pretty much anywhere with my family is a good place to be camping.

cover photo by Bayle Doetch

Syllables and sass by Aaron Altabet

Aaron is one of Hipcamp’s loving and dedicated Interns this spring. He enjoys thinking about airplanes while he’s in the woods, boats while he’s in the city, and ice cream all of the time. Sometimes he remembers to put photos from his travels on Instagram.

Hipcamp is an online marketplace where you can list, discover, and book campsites and accommodations on private and public land. Hipcamp is your go-to guide to getting outside. If you’re a landowner, Hipcamp creates new revenue streams for your business, which can help conserve your land and keep it wild. #FindYourselfOutside #LeaveItBetter

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