A header with the words "Urban Land Scouts" displayed to the left and some young people bent over in field to the right. In the background are the tin roofs of some old houses.

The URBAN LAND SCOUTS are a scouting group open to all people who wish to become better stewards of the land where they live.

 

Below are the Urban Land Scouts pledge and explanations of our ten core values: OBSERVATION ORIENTATION GERMINATION DIGESTION CULTIVATION DISSEMINTATION COLLECTION HABITATION DECOMPOSITION PROPAGATION

You do not have to join the Urban Land Scouts to participate in these actions, but if you would like to earn our embroidered badges, please email katie@urbanlandscouts.com for information. You can read up on the progress of fellow Scouts at the Urban Land Scout blog.

The Urban Land Scout's Pledge

I will to the best of my ability
be a good steward of the land where I live
by cultivating native and edible plants,
promoting species diversity,
sharing the fruits of my labor and knowledge,
and propagating Urban Land Scouting in barren areas.

 

 

Ten Core Values of the Urban Land Scouts

Skip to: Observation, Orientation, Germination, Digestion, Cultivation, Dissemination, Collection, Habitation, Decomposition, or Propagation

OBSERVATION – The Urban Land Scouts looks at the land daily; he is observant of and attentive to it.

Observation is an important foundation of the Urban Land Scouts. Many of us walk around daily, but often with the solitary intention of arriving at our destination. The beginning land scout sets aside time to walk with the sole goal of observation. If you cannot walk, you can still observe.  Pick a spot and concentrate on seeing it thoroughly.  When you walk, slow down and view your surroundings as one who has just arrived in this place. Note especially the things you find growing around you. Look closely at corners, crevices, and abandoned places. What grows there? What kind of trash do you find? Who do you encounter –human or otherwise? What textures, smells, colors, and shapes do you find? Please walk or travel beyond the periphery of your normal life.

Email your findings and observations to passage@urbanlandscouts.com and earn your badge. Congratulations, you are on your way to becoming an Urban Land Scout!

ORIENTATION – The Urban Land Scout tries to identify and map the plants in her neighborhood.

As a novice scout you are asked to walk and observe the natural world. Here you are asked to identify your findings and situate them in a larger and public context by mapping your data on the Urban Land Scouts online map. This map is a collective project and resource. Your contribution to it confirms your commitment to the ULS. You will have to email passage@urbanlandscouts.com to be added as a collaborator. Most of the plants marked on the map are edible perennials and you are encouraged to continue that pattern. If you are unable to find any edible perennials on your own, try changing your route, consulting guidebooks, or traveling with a more experienced UL Scout. When mapping your findings, provide as many relevant details as possible about the plant. For example, indicate whether it is on private property and when it fruits? Below is the online google map where you can add your findings. You can share the map using this shortened URL: http://bit.ly/ULSmapping. If you do not live in or around Knoxville, TN, consider starting a similar map for your community.

Email passage@urbanlandscouts.com to be added as a map collaborator. You can earn this bage by adding to the existing map, starting a similar map for your town, or (for young people or those without regular internet access) drawing a very thorough map of your home and the surrounding area. Be sure to indicate north on your map. Email passage@urbanlandscouts.com with your evidence and we'll send you a badge.


View URBAN LAND SCOUTS – edible Knoxville in a larger map

GERMINATION – The Urban Land Scout cultivates whatever soil he can access and tend.

Now you are on your way in the tradition of the Urban Land Scouts. In Level 1 you were asked to observe the natural world and in Level 2 to document some of your findings. Now you are to become an cultivator of barren and abandoned land. Yes!

To earn this badge you must adopt and tend a small patch of land that is beyond your yard or property. Good examples include medians, neglected and abandoned planters, or other "marginal" lands. Please be sensible about other people's property: know before you sow. There's no sense in sowing seeds or transplanting seedlings to an area destined to be mowed or otherwise disturbed. In certain situations, you might try using seed balls to help with your cultivation.

Seedballs were successfully used by Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka in the mid 20th century. His success depended in part on his awareness of other natural cycles like spring rain and larvae growth. Make some seed balls (you can find a recipe for seedbombs here) and throw them in an area you believe will remain unmowed. If you can return to water the seed ball, you can greatly increase the chance of it’s successful germination. Watch them over the coming weeks.

Send before and after photos of your adopted land topassage@urbanlandscouts.com and earn your Level 3 badge.

A picture of a boy standing on a path in a forest. He has his arm cocked back as if to throw something and is looking off to the right.A woman in a skirt holding a baby on her hip. She is looking to the left with her mouth open in a happy surprised way.

DIGESTION – The Urban Land Scout is fed by the land in which she lives.

This is an important phase of Urban Land Scouting. It is not enough just to sample a leaf of something, here you should make a substantial effort to harvest enough of a wild edible to create or supplement a dish.

Be sure to thoroughly wash any foods found growing in urban areas and never collect from sites you suspect may have been used for heavy industry (like abandoned warehouses). For the purposes of this exercise, we will define “wild” as any plant or fruit found in the city, but outside of a domestic garden. The method of preparation is up to you. Be sure to learn more about any plant that you have not seen before to make sure what you are eating is not a toxic look-alike. Bon appétite.

Email passage@urbanlandscouts.com with your recipe or images of your meal and earn your badge.

CULTIVATION – The Urban Land Scout makes an effort to grow vegetables.

Now that you have experienced the lack of diversity and difficulty in feeding yourself from the urban wild, it’s time to increase your odds. Growing vegetables in a home garden plot or in containers is a more reasonable and ample source of food than the modern urban landscape. Less hardy and more exotic vegetables will grow much better in the amended soil of a garden or pot. Many nurseries and farmers’ markets will sell vegetable starts in spring and early summer.

Go get yourself some vegetable starts, put them in the ground, and give it a shot. Different plants have slightly different needs, but most all will benefit from at minimum of six hours of sun daily and frequent waterings (especially if it does not rain). When you plant your plants, bear in mind their final sizes and do not crowd them too much. Pay attention to them as they grow and tend to them. When the plants have fruited, save their seeds to get started on your Level 7 badge.

In order to earn your badge, not only must you see the plant through to harvest, but you must share that harvest with at least one other person. Email photos of your recipient with the harvest to passage@urbanlandscouts.com.

DISSEMINATION – The Urban Land scout shares information freely and teach others what she knows.

Blog is a contemporary word that comes from shortening the words “web log.” It typically refers to an online publication that is updated frequently. One of the advantages of blogging is the ability to (hyper)link to other sites. Hyperlinking greatly increases the speed and breadth with which information can be disseminated. We ask you to blog about Urban Land Scouting both to help us spread the word and as a reminder that this is a modern endeavor using contemporary media in addition to the soil based activities we promote.

You do not have to start a blog to earn this badge, but you do have to write about your experience with the Urban Land Scouts and share the ULS website. This can be done on blogs, in websites, in email, by chat, in social networking sites like Facebook, or in the tangible and physical world. Send the URL of your blogging or a photograph of your alternative method to passage@urbanlandscouts.com to earn your badge.

Here are some examples of folks who have blogged about the Urban Land Scouts:

collect.cull.cultivate
The Sunsphere is Not a Wigshop
Food, Literature, Philosophy
The Tomatohead

 

COLLECTION – The Urban Land Scout collects and plants seeds.

Seed saving is an important gesture of both hope through the winter and self reliance. It is how generations of growers have preserved heirloom varieties or hybridized new strains with combinations of desirable traits. In the last decade, several large agribusinesses have patented the genetic combinations within their seeds. It is illegal to save these seeds...but you can avoid that issue by not purchasing seeds from those companies (namely Monsanto).

Many seeds from annuals will save easily so long as they are kept dry and away from light. Tomato, pepper, sunflower, and cucumber seeds will all save easily this way. Other seeds have more particular needs, like periods of cold (called stratification) or scratching (called scarification), in order to germinate. Look up your seeds at the library or online to know best how to store and then start them. Collect and save seeds for spring planting. Start them indoors with gentle moisture and ample light.

Document your process and send in photos to passage@urbanlandscouts.com.

 


HABITATION – The Urban Land scout is lucid, patient, and rooted in the land where he lives.

Perennials are plants that return for at least two seasons. Many return year after year. Planting one requires more profound awareness of soil and light conditions and an extended commitment to a specific place. As with the hope sustained by collecting and saving seeds, perennials pass through death-like winter dormancy and re-emerge in spring. In watching and caring for these plants we connect to primal cycles that might supersede our own. The sustained growth of a perennial plant is a small piece in a larger ecosystem. For example, blueberry bushes provide bees their pollen in spring and are in turn pollinated by them. In the summer, those same bee-pollinated blossoms will mature into berries, food for the gardner as well as birds, whose wide range will disseminate the blueberry’s seeds broadly. Talk with another Scout or your local reference librarian about where you might plant your particular perennial.

Plant a perennial and maintain it for over a year. Send documentation of the plant through the four seasons to passage@urbanlandscouts.com to earn this badge.

DIGESTION – The Urban Land Scout composts with the help of worms.

Compost is the contained and accelerated decomposition of organic matter like dry leaves, ash, sawdust, eggshells, vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, hair, and shredded paper. A hearty compost pile will break down the organic matter into a dark, nutrient-rich hummus that will give almost any plant a tremendous boost. Although compost is an important foundation of soil health and plant growth, it comes at the end of the Urban Land Scouts cycle in order to stress its value.

A compost pile with worms will decompose faster and be nutrient rich—worm poop is like plant steroids. You may add these worms and compost to a pre-existing bin or pile or use them to inoculate a new pile. Keep compost and worms for several months, and photograph either the established hummus and/or a handful of worms and send the documentation to passage@urbanlandscouts.com to earn your badge.

PROPAGATION – The Urban Land Scout shares her harvest.

The Urban Land Scout’s progress culminates with the care of a fruit tree. The longevity of the plant as well as the abundance of its harvest are primary metaphors of the patience and generosity necessary for stewardship. You must plant a fruit tree, and then wait and live with the tree until it bears fruit. Congratulations-- you are embarking on an important portion of the Urban Land Scout’s journey. In addition to harvesting the fruit from the tree, you must share your harvest.

Photograph both the harvest and the people with whom you shared it and send your images to passage@urbanlandscouts.com to earn your badge.