How did this all start?
In 2014, two friends rode their bike across the state of Iowa in the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), while planting and distributing 12,000 milkweed seeds, the host plant for the Monarch butterfly, along the way. There was great enthusiasm for the efforts, but the seeds needed help landing in the roadside when tossed from a bike. So, in 2015, Milkweed Matters partnered with a group of Monarch enthusiasts called Monarchs in Eastern Iowa to roll 2,000 seedballs filled with common milkweed seed. An educational booth was set up in one RAGBRAI pass-through town, and all of the seedballs were given to passing riders. This event was so successful that in 2016, the Milkweed Matters team ramped up the efforts and held 30 seedball rolling events across the state of Iowa, surpassing the year’s goal to roll 50,000 seedballs. These were distributed at seven educational booths during RAGBRAI. A riding team was established to promote the efforts during the ride. A REAP-CEP mini grant helped to make the 2016 efforts possible. 2017 saw continued success by establishing a train the trainer structure, holding over 80 seedball rolling events, producing over 60,000 seedballs, and distributing at eight educational booths during RAGBRAI. 2018 took a much needed step back, and merely 20,000 seedballs were rolled at 30 events and distributed at five educational booths during the ride. Donations are constant at the educational booths, but energy has not been put toward larger fundraising efforts.
What are seedballs?
Seedballs are a no-till natural farming technique that was introduced by Japanese ecologist Manusoba Fukuoka in the 1960s. Research on seedball germination rates has begun, but is slow, and needs much more support to gain credibility. Initial greenhouse test of our seedballs in 2016 saw a 92% germination rate, and subsequent pre and post ride surveys have seen increased milkweed stands within the 5 miles after where seedball distribution booths are. Additionally, citizen engagement is in the thousands and post ride surveys point to increased awareness of reason for monarch and milkweed population decline, as well as increased awareness of potential solutions.