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Posted on Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 11 a.m.

'Seed bomb' planned to sprout new life on Water Street

By Tom Perkins

Ypsilanti’s system of green space that winds through the city along the Huron River is among its greatest treasures.

There is Water Works Park, Riverside Park and Frog Island Park among the most popular destinations for residents and visitors.

And then, in the middle of that network, sits the Water Street property, which still bears scars of recently-razed industry and subsequent soil remediation.

In short, it’s a lot of dead weeds, rocks, clumps of dirt and a few patches of mostly brown grass.

Mark Maynard, an Ypsilanti blogger, hopes to transform at least part of the property from a “barren wasteland” into a place that offers signs of life, growth and color through an unorthodox approach - seed-bombing.


Water Street: Not the prettiest lot?

Tom Perkins | For

The concept is simple. A mix of seeds is packed into a clump of clay and compost. The fresh “bomb” is left to dry for a day or two. Then “bombing” begins, with 100 or so people throwing the bombs around Water Street. Within a matter of weeks, new life sprouts out of the dirt turf.

“That property is right at the heart of the city and it’s a desolate, underutilized space, and has been 10 years,” Maynard said. “We’ve been waiting for development, so here people are kind of empowered to do something themselves by creating something that will grow, and having this plot that reflects resiliency of the city."

Maynard first posted about a sunflower seed bomb in early April and immediately got an enthusiastic response. A Facebook page has since been established and has more than 160 “likes.” Maynard says he has the manpower to make the bombing happen with a target date of May 1.

The original vision involved 100 or so people chucking and catapulting sunflower seed bombs all over Water Street, then waiting and watching as a giant sunflower patch sprouted.

But the operation requires a little more attention to some details. The city didn’t like the idea of sunflowers because police need to be able to see into the site and sunflowers grow high enough to hide people.

Sunflowers also absorb pollution out of the ground and can become toxic themselves, which would require additional disposal later in the year.

The city suggested smaller plants, so Maynard began contacting a variety of experts and people from nurseries across the state. As of now, Jerusalem artichokes and a bright orange type of milkweed are among two of the choices, and Maynard is trying to find a mix of eight or so flowers and grasses that will not only look nice but have an ecological impact.

For example, milkweed is good option because the dying milkweed population is thought to be behind the drop in the monarch butterfly population.

Another consideration is the plants’ germination period. Maynard says he’s trying to find a balance of flowers and vegetation that will sprout quickly and throughout the season.

The bombing also can only take place on a roughly 1.5-acre parcel of the 31-acre Water Street site. Maynard said city officials explained there still are areas of toxicity on the grounds, but the spot that will be utilized is a choice one near the Huron River and Michigan Avenue.

But the space limit won’t prevent catapults. Maynard said his third-grade daughter’s science class built miniature catapults, and he’s hoping to incorporate them into the bombing.

After receiving the Park Commission's blessing on April 11 to adopt the 1.5-acre plot, the only remaining task is to have a small group of volunteers to maintain the plot.

Now residents will have something more pleasant to see on the site.

“When you drive up from the east it’s the first thing you see is a field where there are signs of life and the community caring about it,” Maynard said.



Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 6:46 p.m.

Tom, who will do the seed-bomb-chucking? do they need volunteers? can I volunteer? if so, where?


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 12:38 p.m.

What about the tree farm that was reported a few months ago for that area? Is that still going forward? Also, it wouldn't hurt the area to actually plan some sort of garden and park spaces to make it usable and attract people to the area.


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 12:28 p.m.

What a great idea! There are many places in the area that this would benefit. Way to go!


Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 12:21 p.m.

I hope this isn't a self-aggrandizing stunt by Mr. Maynard and his supporters, and they will be out there helping other members of the community in planting trees this coming weekend at water street.

not a billy

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 2:13 a.m.

Another unique idea for the wasteland. Why not use marijuana seed bombs and grow something to support probably the one most profitable business in the city. Between the illegal dealers and the medical marijuana purveyors there should be plenty of buyers. Probably get a lot more participants, and as soon as the plants mature there will be plenty of foot traffic in the Water Street nature preserve. The boondoggle continues.

Mark Maynard

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 2:06 a.m.

5. As for the toxins still on the site, we're not going to be planting anywhere near them. If you go to my website, you'll see a map showing where they are in relation to where we'll be planting. The existing contamination, from what I've been told, is some 20 feet below the surface, but we still thought that we should stay away, just in case any of the plants drew hazardous materials up to the surface. 6. There's been no talk of pheasants, but I would imagine that wildlife might return with the native plants. And I did see a wild turkey not too far down Michigan Avenue a few weeks ago.

Mark Maynard

Mon, Apr 15, 2013 : 2 a.m.

Thanks for the story, Tom. We appreciate it... I just have a few additions to make in response to the points made above. 1. This isn't an alternative to development. We're aware that what we're doing could very well be temporary, and we're OK with that. We need development on Water Street. We need jobs and the increased tax revenues that come along with them. In the meantime, though, we figured, why not involve our fellow citizens in doing something beautiful. 2. The Rec Center, when built, will likely be further west on the Water Street property, and, as such, shouldn't interfere with what we have planned. We will be planting approximately 1 acre of the 38 acre parcel. It's a highly visible acre, though, and our hope is that our work conveys to those passing by on Michigan Avenue that the people of Ypsi care about our community, the environment, each other, etc. 3. Our Planning Department, from my perspective, has been doing an admirable job of trying to keep things moving forward on the site. It's true that, on occasion, I've expressed concern about some of the companies they've been in talks with (i.e. Family Dollar), but I don't doubt for a minute that they're trying to do what's best for our City in a very difficult environment. Furthermore, I should point out that the Planning Department, and Teresa Gillotti in particular, helped make this happen. It's easy to look at the empty site and criticize, but Teresa, and Richard Murphy before her, have really worked their ---es off to make good things happen on the site, from their work on the proposed Rec Center to the establishment of the Border to Border Trail that runs through the site. 4. It's also worth nothing that others have talked about seed bombing Water Street before me. I just happened to be the one who went through the proper channels and adopted a piece of Water Street to make it happen. And I'm certainly not alone. The "Seed Bomb Water Street" Facebook page already has about 200 members.


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 7:52 p.m.

Bravo, Mr. Maynard. It's so refreshing to see an actual tangible plan of action in place instead of reading about how Mr. Lange and Ms. Gillotti need tens of thousands of additional tax dollars to re-study the same site for the 25th time to come up with another artist's rendering of yet another unattainable and unrealistic "plan." It would seem to me that with all of the city manager's highly compensated planning staff and highly compensated "consultants" at his disposal, Mr. Maynard deserves something tangible for his creative and pragmatic solution. One has to wonder when our city council members are going to cutoff the free flow of taxpayer dollars to those who continue to fail to produce. The lack of accountability by the Ypsilanti city council is unparalleled, with the possible exception of that beacon of effective, efficient, responsive and transparent democracy – Detroit.


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 7:06 p.m.

I have mixed feelings and questions to go with them: 1) when does the Rec Center break ground? 2) is the toxic stuff in the soil handled or not?

dading dont delete me bro

Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 6:43 p.m.

how about getting pheasants forever involved? my wife and i picked up a wounded pheasant trying to get into the old abandoned flea market store there years ago. we took it to a wild bird sanctuary in saline.

dading dont delete me bro

Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 6:41 p.m.

much better than a family dollar store.


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 5:24 p.m.

"the city didn't like the idea of sunflowers because police need to be able to see into the site and sunflowers grow high enough to hide people." If you see an old-school blue phone booth out there among all those pretty flowers growing, know this: we're screwed.


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 6:10 p.m.

I mean to say, I know what the old blue phone booth is, but why would it be particularly bad to find one at this location?


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 5:58 p.m.

I don't know this reference. Could you please explain?

Linda Peck

Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 3:37 p.m.

This is a wonderful concept. I would like to see the beautiful fields of flowers and weeds growing together, attracting bees and butterflies and hummingbirds. We need lots and lots of beauty all around us. Thank you, Mark Maynard!


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 3:30 p.m.

Thanks for getting my hopes up and dashing them.I was hoping for some quarter sticks or M-80's ( yes M-80's are illegal but they're like moonshine if you want them bad enough you can find them ) being involved