Bringing Back the Bees: How One Bay Area Company is Using Wildflowers to Create a More Sustainable Food System

A pile of colorful Seedles before packaging. Photo: Angela Johnston
A pile of colorful Seedles before packaging. Photo: Angela Johnston

When Daly City residents Chris Burley and Ei Ei Khin had their first child in 2013, they knew they wanted to do something to make the world a better place for their son. They brainstormed different options on how they could help create a more sustainable food system for their child. Burley and Khin tossed around the idea of starting an organic farm or only eating local. Their final decision, Chris said, was actually the simplest - bringing back the declining bee population.

Chris Burley is using Seedles to bring back the bees by planting more wildflowers. Photo: Angela Johnston
Chris Burley is using Seedles to bring back the bees by planting more wildflowers. Photo: Angela Johnston

“We scoured lots of research for the best ways to do this. A lot people say reduce your pesticides, other people say support sustainable farming, others say to plant a bee-friendly habitat in your yard, and we thought that the one that was the easiest and most successful was just planting wildflowers,” Burley says.

So, he and his wife developed Seedles - small colorful seed balls made out of clay, organic compost, and wildflower seeds, coated with natural pigment dyes, that you can throw anywhere. With the help of some rain, the Seedles make their way into the soil and eventually sprout wildflowers that attract bees.

Chris Burley explains the homemade machine he uses to create thousands of Seedles each week. Photo: Angela Johnston
Chris Burley explains the homemade machine he uses to create thousands of Seedles each week. Photo: Angela Johnston
Natural, non-toxic dyes are used to color the Seedles. Photo: Angela Johnston
Natural, non-toxic dyes are used to color the Seedles. Photo: Angela Johnston

Burley and Khin originally started rolling every single seed ball with their hands, but were challenged when they started to get an increase in orders. So, Burley engineered a machine made out of a rain barrel that spins on its side and rolls the materials into individual balls, allowing him to make 10,000 balls per week in his backyard. After they are rolled, the Seedles dry outside before getting coated in colored powder and shipped all around the United States. Burley has created different wildflower mixes for different parts of the country, so customers can plant flowers native to their region. If you get Seedles’ Southwest wildflower seed balls ($13 for a pack of 20 seed balls) you’ll be able to spread Red Maids, California Poppies, Lupines, Bluebells, Prarie Asters, and Purple Tansies.

“Our goal is not only to find native plants, but also strong plants that will act as buffets for the bees - plants and flowers that produce a lot of pollen,” Burley says.

Chris Burley shows off the Purple Tansy wildflowers that started growing in his yard after he tossed a few Seedles in the area. Photo: Angela Johnston
Chris Burley shows off the Purple Tansy wildflowers that started growing in his yard after he tossed a few Seedles in the area. Photo: Angela Johnston
Purple Tansy sprouts from a seed ball in Burley's garden. Photo: Chris Burley
Purple Tansy sprouts from a seed ball in Burley's garden. Photo: Chris Burley

Burley tells me that wildflower meadows across the nation are disappearing as the population grows. These flowerless landscapes are one of the many reasons bee colonies have been collapsing at an increased rate. In the last eight years the annual loss of bees has jumped from five percent annually to 30 percent.

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“We used to have a lot more available for bees and other pollinators and my goal is to bring that percentage back,” Burley says. He also hopes a side effect will be beautifying the unkempt, unactivated, and unused plots of earth in urban neighborhoods.

Burley tests out different varieties of wildflowers to see which ones are the most resilient. Photo: Angela Johnston
Burley tests out different varieties of wildflowers to see which ones are the most resilient. Photo: Angela Johnston

After a successful Kickstarter campaign in the spring of 2014, and lot positive feedback, Burley decided to create a goal to encourage kids to plant one billion wildflowers across the United States.

“At Seedles our goal is to make creating a more abundant ecosystem through wildflowers more fun, accessible, and easy. That’s really what it boils down to. We are trying to make it as easy as possible to make the world a more colorful, and better place.”

All Seedles need is water, sun, and a place to grow. Photo: Angela Johnston
All Seedles need is water, sun, and a place to grow. Photo: Angela Johnston

Burley wants to make it clear that while he does like bees, and wildflowers, his ultimate end goal is one of the most important - creating a sustainable food system.

Honeybees are responsible for pollinating roughly one third of the food we eat, Burley explains. We can also thank bees for colorful, fun food like berries, coffee, and watermelons.

“I think anyone who cares about enjoying their morning cup of coffee can do something small to help bring back more bees.”

In order to make this connection more clear, Seedles is beginning to partner with local food companies who will hand out seed balls with the food they sell.

Multicolored Seedles in pots amidst an herb garden. Photo: Chris Burley
Multicolored Seedles in pots amidst an herb garden. Photo: Chris Burley

Lori Phillips owns Rocko’s Ice Cream Tacos trucks and learned about Seedles from a farm where she gets her wheat and barley flours. “Wildflowers that are free of pesticides support healthy bees, and we need those bees to support the production of all the things we love to eat, including ice cream tacos,” Phillips says.

Phillips contacted Burley to see if they could form a partnership. Bees don’t only pollinate the produce we see in the fruit and vegetable section of the supermarket, but also clover and alfalfa fed to dairy cows.

“I am excited about the idea of giving away Seedles as a way to educate our customers about some of the things that are important to us as a company. We make fun and yummy products that we hope make people happy, but we also hope that our customers think about their food choices and why ingredients matter,” Phillips says.

She wants this cross promotion to open up a conversation with her customers, and will soon be handing out Seedles while offering a raw honey drizzle as a new ice cream taco topping.

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“We want to share why we value our ingredients, the people who make them, and most importantly, the environment that supports us all.”

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