Making seed bombs with the awesome kids of Ypsi Middle School, and plotting to bring Billy Bragg to our May Day celebration

I skipped breakfast this morning and headed over with Jeff Clark to make seed bombs with 7th and 8th graders at Ypsi Middle School. It was an incredible experience. The kids were enthusiastic, inquisitive, and just all-around awesome. And, thanks to their hard work, we now have over 500 seed bombs prepared for Wednesday’s big May Day event… I just wish that I could start every day discussing the environment, native plants, and community activism with energetic young people. It was seriously inspiring… And, it looks like some of them will be peddling their bikes over on Wednesday, so that they can join us as we collectively work to reintroduce native species on Water Street, and transform a desolate, weed-filled wasteland along Michigan Avenue into a thriving commons. Here are a few photos.

It’s worth noting, I think, that these kids very much wanted to come as a group to Water Street to walk the site, help remove invasive species, and see what we were planning firsthand. Unfortunately, however, due to budget cuts, and the district’s reliance on private buses, they couldn’t make it. (I’m told that they would have had to pay $300 to use a bus for the day.) So, we did the best that we could to make them a part of the process, given the parameters. Last week, we shot video of the site and sent it to their teacher, so that they could get a sense of what we were doing, and, today, Jeff and I went into their classroom to show them how to make seed bombs, while talking with them about everything from the history of May Day to colony collapse.

Given the feel good nature of this post, this probably isn’t the right place for me to launch into a tirade about the systematic defunding of public education in Michigan, but I really do think it’s criminal that these kids, and their incredible teacher, Tonia Porterfield, lack the ability to even make it across town to work on a project that would tie together so much of what they’re learning about in the classroom, from the real life application of math (in laying out the site), to the importance of species diversification. Assuming this initiative of ours takes off the way that we’re hoping, and the seed bombs made by these young folks this morning actually work, and successfully bring about positive change in our downtown, I’m thinking that we should have another fundraising campaign next year, so that we can rent buses and bring them to the site, so that they can see firsthand what they’ve helped to create… And, yes, I know that a lot of them will have other opportunities to get to the site on their own, but they won’t have the benefit of being able to hear from native plant experts, and professionals working in brownfield remediation, etc, the way they would if we set up something comprehensive for their entire class.

When one of the girls in the class thanked Jeff and me for coming out today, saying excitedly, “This makes it so much more real than a video,” it really brought home the fact that these kids are anxious for real, hands-on opportunities to learn and make a difference in the world. (As much as Michigan Republicans would like it to be the case, on-line education isn’t sufficient by itself.) And, even with a teacher as creative and resourceful as Ms. Porterfield, who took the initiative to call me after hearing about the seed bombing project, asking me to include them somehow, the opportunities for project based learning outside the traditional school setting are few and far between. And, since meeting with them this morning, I can’t stop thinking about ways to get them more engaged… So, if you do come out to help us slingshot and catapult seed bombs onto Water Street this Wednesday, and you happen to see a few middle school-aged kids standing around, thank them for helping make the bombs, and talk with them about the kinds of things they’d like to do in the community. Not only will it be good for them to know that adults actually give a damn, but I think you’ll get something out of it too, as they begin talking about the kinds of contributions they’d like to make, and the kinds of experiences they’d like to have. It’ll restore your faith in humanity. I promise.

Speaking of May Day, thanks to the efforts of the lovable young radicals of the Ypsi Free Skool, a number of other activities will be taking place in addition to the seed bombing. Here’s the schedule.

12:30 – 1:30 – Skill Share – MiniZine Workshop with David Chapman

1:30 – 2:00 – International Worker Solidarity March

3:00 – 4:00 – Skill Share – Radical Labor History with Phil Patterson

4:00 – 5:00 – Skill Share – Food Forests with Jesse Tack

5:00 – Seed Bombing

5:30 – Potluck and Bonfire

Further information can be found at

And, one last thing… It’s just come to my attention that, as luck would have it, the voice of the international worker, Billy Bragg, is scheduled to be in Ann Arbor on May Day for a show at the Ark. And I’m thinking that it would be really cool if we could get him out to Ypsi for a while, to join us in a song or two. I don’t know how realistic it is, as I’m sure his schedule is tight, but I’ve just reached out to a brilliant designer friend, asking him to drop everything and begin work on a “This Machine Plants Flowers… The People of Ypsilanti Would Love to Share a May Day Meal with You, Billy” poster. My thought is that, if we can get people to put them up all over Ann Arbor tomorrow, there’s a chance that he might see one, or someone might mention it to him. (It’ll also, of course, draw the attention of folks in Ann Arbor to our May Day activities. As I’m not aware of a May Day event taking place in Ann Arbor, I suspect there are some folks who would like to come out and join us on Water Street.) I’ll keep you posted… In the meantime, though, please do what you can though your networks to reach Billy Bragg. If you know someone at the Ark, pick up a phone and call them. Or perhaps send him an invitation through Facebook.

[note: Background on the seed bombing of Water Street can be found here.]

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  1. Edward
    Posted April 30, 2013 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    Billy Bragg would put this event over the top. I can’t even begin to imagine how cool that would be.

  2. anonymous
    Posted April 30, 2013 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    So many terrible stories about kids these days. It’s good to be reminded on occasion that they’re inquisitive and care about making their community better. It’s just too bad that adults don’t support them in their endeavors.

    You can bet if we needed a bus to get them to a military recruiting station, or to jail, there wouldn’t be a problem, but getting them a bus to a community service project across town is impossible as it’s not a priority for tax payers. It’s absolutely criminal.

  3. Knox
    Posted April 30, 2013 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    Teachers should find out Friday whether or not they’ll keep their jobs through the most recent round of cuts. Hopefully good, experienced teachers like Ms. Portenfield are asked to stay, and not just pushed aside for younger, less expensive teachers.

  4. Elliott
    Posted April 30, 2013 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Kids deserve so much better than we give them.

  5. May Day
    Posted April 30, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Just one clarification. When we say “bonfire” we don’t mean a huge, roaring bonfire. We mean a small, manageable fire pit that we’ll be sitting around. So please don’t freak out. We worked with the Fire Department last year, got the necessary approvals, and handled everything responsibly. And we’ll be doing the same thing again this year.

  6. TeacherPatti
    Posted April 30, 2013 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I could never get a field trip bus when I was teaching in Detroit. Getting field trips was also difficult as you had to justify everything and saying things like “getting the kids to Ann Arbor to experience a thriving city with a workable bus system” wouldn’t cut it. Then once in awhile the bus just wouldn’t show up (only happened to me once but it was enough). I agree that if we were on our way to lock up, the bus would have magically appeared :(

    Elliott is right…they deserve so much better. The fact that they continue to thrive and care is a testament to their awesomeness.

  7. Posted April 30, 2013 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    It’s too late. Teachers have already been informed by Scott Menzel and other administrators that teachers like Mrs. Porterfield will not be returning to the consolidated district. They have stated( on Mlive and in staff meetings) that” several highly qualified, excellent teachers will not be rehired for the fall.” I’d like to know what they plan on telling the parents. What could possibly be the reason for not bringing back “highly qualified, excellent” teachers for our community’s children. This new administration has put a clearance price on the education of our students. They’re trading valuable, experienced, committed educators for the newer, cheaper, models. Let’s see how that works with discipline and achievement gaps. We aren’t booking cruises, we’re educating children…and you do get what you pay for.

  8. Posted April 30, 2013 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

    A big thank you to Patrick Dunn, Doug Coombe and the folks at Concentrate for the great article they just posted on the project.

  9. Doris
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    Way to go! Mrs. Porterfield and her class ROCKS! The world needs more of YOU people because YOU people will make a positive difference in this world in spite of the politicians. I guess it never dawns on the school board to cut a few administrators in order to save the ones that really count…good, dedicated, inspirational teachers.

  10. TJ
    Posted May 5, 2013 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for organizing this – I hope many of those seeds come up and flourish! The Ypsi Salvation Army overlooks that field, and it is a desolate sight. I stop by there once a week as a volunteer, and have often thought it would be much more desirable to see something else. Systematic trash removal would help, too…

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