Remember those stories about Johnny Appleseed that were in your grammar school history textbooks? I’m talking about the man who planted apple trees all over Ohio, and who was probably the first vegan and sustainability advocate. Well, if you have no idea who I am talking about, that quick bio is what Wikipedia is for—but think about him next time you have an apple from the upper Midwest—dare I say they are the best. Of course, the truth was that he just didn’t walk barefoot tossing seeds all over the Ohio Valley; he actually carefully planted the trees, and built and tended nurseries. John Chapman (his real name) was also probably the first industry spokesman, as he planted seeds from cider mills, the owners of which were happy to see more trees, as that meant more product and business. Enough of a history lesson and let’s fast-forward; an entrepreneur is attempting a similar movement using 21st century methods.
Paul Stamets, author, mycologist, and founder of Fungi Perfecti, believes he has a solution. The Life Box is an infusion of plant fiber, fungi spores, and tree seeds. He has a convenient believer in Al Gore—the former veep arranged his publisher to ship his new book, Our Choice, using this packaging.
Each box has a few hundred seeds interwoven through the packaging. The seeds are US- and Canadian- government approved, and can be shipped anywhere in both countries except for Hawaii. Upon receiving the package, the recipient can tear up the box and plant it anywhere—yards, community gardens, highway medians—all bare plots of land are fair game.
The odds of the tree seeds growing into mature seeds are about the same as Brazilian tree turtles surviving to maturity—Life Box estimates that about 1 in 100 seeds will grow into a robust tree, which means that hearty tree, if it lives to 30 years, can sequester about 1 ton of carbon.
Stamets and Life Box have ambitious plans. The company is starting with cardboard packaging, but has media mailers, pizza boxes, shoe boxes, and those pesky hot beverage cup sleeves (am I the only one who slips them in my back pocket and either reuse or recycle them?) are on the radar.
Naturally, some questions will sprout. Business will wonder whether the packaging is cost-effective: Life Box claims the price of its product is comparable. What if clueless customers just toss it in the blue recycling bin? Do we really want both countries to look like California, a mix of deciduous, evergreen, and fruit trees? And will gleeful recipients of eBay and Amazon care packages make the effort to actually tear and plant pieces of the Life Box? But seriously: shipping is a huge part of our economy and livelihoods, and this is another packaging solution that merits consideration.
As an LA resident who winces at treeless streets like Beverly, Western, and Pico, and is grateful for living in an older neighborhood that actually has shade, I would love to see something like this work.
But the reality is probably closer to a dear friend who lives in the Central Valley, who bought a new home. She was lamenting her barren backyard, so I suggested tossing some wildflower seeds or even “seed bombs” for which activist groups like Guerilla Gardeners are famous. “But what if they spread to my neighbors’ yards?” was her reply. Extreme, perhaps, but that is the world many of us live in.
Will this succeed? Would you pay a premium if you could choose this packaging?