By Annette Hinkle
At a recent Sag Harbor Fair Foods Market, Anne Apparu’s outdoor table garnered a lot of attention from passersby who noticed the small chocolate balls she was rolling and placing on cookie sheets.
“Those look good,” commented many who hungrily eyed the confections.
And while these delicacies are indeed both good — and nutritious — they are not in fact, chocolate. Rather, Apparu calls them “seed bombs” and her ultimate goal for them is nothing short of re-vegetatation of the coastline of Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
Several visitors to the market eagerly rolled up their sleeves to join in the seed bomb making effort. Beginning this week, the bombs, a combination of clay, soil, sand and dune plant seeds, are destined for new life at local beaches decimated by the October storm. Included in the mix were seaside golden rod, beach rose and beach sumac seeds, as well as a few seeds Apparu harvested herself from the wild.
“There’s also switch grass and Atlantic panic grass,” said Apparu. “These plants are salt resistant and hold down the sand.”
On Saturday with the seed bombs dried and ready to go, Apparu will be back at the market from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to hand them out to residents with instructions to distribute them by bicycle or on foot at nearby ocean beaches.
This seed bomb project is largely a one-woman show conceived, as it is, by Apparu herself. Though many may see her efforts as little more than a futile gesture against a rising tide, Apparu notes the project is not only an effective way of educating people on the importance of coastal dunes, it also gives residents some sense of control over their environment in the aftermath of what was an epic storm.
Apparu’s inspiration for the seed bomb project grew from her efforts to create edible gardens in New York by spreading seeds in abandoned lots in food-desert neighborhoods. Apparu felt a similar action could help rebuild the shoreline.
“I’m a cook and since I’ve always been in Rockaway and involved in the food crisis there, after Sandy I was running a food kitchen,” she explained. “There was no access to food or heat, just barbecue equipment, like camping equipment, we were making thousands of meals a day and distributed them by bike.”
“I was hooked and there for three months,” she added.
The situation made Apparu think about her studies in permaculture — design systems that make efficient use of what is available naturally.
“For gardening, that means water catchment, wind catchment, using slopes and using the environment to take care of it,” she explains.
And for ocean beaches from Rockaway to Montauk, it means attempting to bring back dune systems — many of which were already compromised by development — which were further destroyed by Sandy.
“Five feet of water covered the whole place, and nothing would have stopped it,” said Apparu of the situation in Rockaway where, before Sandy, few residents saw dunes as beneficial. “No one wanted the dunes, they wanted the view. The boardwalk was over the sand that would’ve been dunes. There were no plants. The few places that had some plants were so intoxicated by the city black water runoff, they were really weak.”
So Apparu took action with her seed bomb project and it has since gained traction, educating people on the importance of the dunes which stand sentinel along the coast.
“I’m not a guerilla gardener — when I go for a walk I would just throw some seeds in the park in Rockaway so there would be food for everyone,” she said. “Then necessity came. We have to have a stronger natural barrier.”
Which is why Apparu has offered seed bomb workshops from New York City to Sag Harbor. Though most East End residents understand the importance of the dune system, many local beaches are still need repair after the damage wrought by Sandy.
“What we make today will be good to cover from Montauk to Shinnecock,” said Apparu who added that the clay in the seed bombs creates a pod for the seeds until they sprout. “Once they’re strong enough they infiltrate the sand.”
What’s not in the seed bomb, however, is dune grass — a plant crucial for dune stabilization but one that can’t be grown from seed.
“These have to be thrown where dune grass is already growing, otherwise it’s pointless,” said Apparu who noted it’s possible for people to cultivate dune grass by plucking dormant bits from existing dunes in winter and replanting them.
Though she readily admits she doesn’t know how successful her seed bomb project will ultimately be, Apparu feels this type of involvement can have big effect on people’s perception of what they can accomplish.
“I think we should try, we don’t know what’s possible,” she said. “What I really want to do is set the momentum, get the habit ingrained. Whatever happens, it’s fine.”
The seed bombs will be distributed at the Sag Harbor Fair Foods Farmers Market at Christ Episcopal Church (East Union Street at Route 114) on Saturday, May 4 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. just in time for International Permaculture Day — May 5.
“That is cool,” said Apparu. “We can set the momentum that every International Permaculture Day becomes a seed bombing day.”
DIY Seed Bomb Recipe
Throw coastal repair seed bombs in patches of dune grass:
1 part dune plant seeds (switch grass, purple sand grass, common saltwort, joint weed, seaside goldenrod, sea rocket, seaside spurge, beach peas, beach rose)
3 parts sand
3 parts soil
7 parts clay
• Harvest dune plant seeds in late fall and keep refrigerated through the winter.
• In winter, when beach grass is dormant, pull some out of the ground, separate the blades at the root and plug the blades into areas that are bare.
• In spring, make seed bombs and throw them where beach grass grows.