Herbology, empowerment and spare seeds bags in Amsterdam
I heard about Lynn Shore through my friend Laura, who volunteers in River of Herbs. RoH is one of Lynn’s Amsterdam-based projects and it aims at “encouraging and assisting people to plant and use insect pollinated herbs throughout the city”.
Laura already told me a bit about Lynn’s character : « You will see, she’s amazing! » She was right. From our very first online contact to our conversation around her living room table on a sunny Sunday morning, I found Lynn warmhearted, friendly and compassionate. What else could I expect when meeting someone who devotes all her time to caring about people and plants?
It seems Lynn was born with an ever-growing curiosity about how nature and things work. No wonder why she works as a school teacher, manages several plants-related projects throughout the city, has completed a Master’s degree in Public Health, contributes with her writings to various magazines, and has studied permaculture. Should I mention that the list is not exhaustive?
“I have always been keen on plants and attracted to new fields in general. If I hear about something interesting, I want to study it and I am still interested in learning. I never have a fixed opinion on anything”.
There could not be any sounder combination than a kid’s thirst for knowledge coupled with the will of a researcher. However, while sipping tea, she admits with a smile :
“When I was young, I think that I was more into plants than people. I loved being on my own, growing plants and studying snails – my parents were very supportive. I also remember my grandfather helping me growing radishes.”
This is one of her first memories of seeds, among lupins, hollyhocks, marrow seedlings from the school fair, her small pumpkin plot in the garden… Sowing was probably her favourite game, and receiving a package of seeds, the best gift possible.
Lynn understood from her early age that seeds are precious. I kept a curious eye on the large plastic bag set on the table between us from the moment we started our conversation. It contains spare seeds of all sorts, gathered and pooled together by RoH volunteers and participants : cumin, coriander, calendula, sunflower…
“Each time people put a handful in this bag, they show faith in your project, they trust you as the guardian of them, I don’t want to let them down.”
While making that statement, she thrusts her hand into the bag like Amélie would do with lentils. Over the summer, Lynn gives them away as well as some other seeds collected in parks and streets: hazelnuts, rose hips, but also elder cuttings, for instance.
“I see no harm in getting a few of them, instead of birds. They would become weeds otherwise. I give them to people who sow them in a garden, or simply return them to nature.”
Knowing the plants around you may help you feel “rooted” in a place. This is Lynn’s personal experience and the more I listen to her, the more I understand the concept of a strong link between a place and the other living entities which are part of it.
“ When I moved to Amsterdam, I started living in a studio at Leidseplein, and I felt a bit lost without a garden. I needed plants around, so I decided to go and find them. “
Six years ago, she moved in to her current house a street away from Frankendael park, her new “back garden”.
We laugh together about the symbol of roots which may appear terribly new-agey, nevertheless, we both agree there is some truth in there: foraging from your area helps you connect with the land and therefore, helps you feel at home in a new place. This is probably why her foraging walks through Amsterdam are so popular. When she arrived in town, Lynn realized that very few people knew about it, unlike in the countryside where you can always find a neighbour or elder to tell you about a local plant. Besides gaining scientific knowledge, Lynn emphasises on the empowering effect of getting to know about edible plants.
“I could see the spark in people’s eyes on a walk, when they said “I can do that, I don’t need permission! I can eat pansies, ground-elder, etc”. It is everybody’s right to know this information. In the past or in the countryside, you would have had it from your parents, but there are not many knowledgeable plant people anymore, so we need to spread the word quickly.”
She has not started RoH with political goals in mind. Lynn does not follow laws that much. Even though one may think it is crucial to keep yourself updated about the recent European seed laws, she feels that you can easily lose a lot of your time and get trapped in a “the more you know, the more you worry, the less you do” dynamic.
“I am not scared. You’ll never stop me or other passionate people from doing what we want with seeds. I have no fear about someone coming to tell me what I can and can’t grow. I love helping people who are fighting for better laws, but I also believe that in a way, natural justice will prevail.”
Her attitude towards unfair regulations sounds familiar to me. Just like Vandana Shiva asks people to direct their energy towards optimistic actions instead of focusing on those who do wrong, Lynn claims “Be positive and just do it”.
Regarding plants and the environment in general, “People need to stop feeling like they cannot make a difference” says Lynn. According to our Urban Herbologist, the difference can be made by empowerment through informal sharing of knowledge that could be otherwise forgotten. We can all start doing little things like collecting seeds and planting them, even if we have never done that before.
Lynn is far from being alone in Amsterdam when it comes to dealing with plants and seeds.
“There have always been people planting herbs and flowers in tree pits, it’s not new, but there is now a growing network of deeply involved people in the city.”
With so many projects driven by Dutch people and expats, Lynn sometimes has “quite a feeling that there are islands of people doing similar things.” Connections already exist and it is up to us to participate in such initiatives and to bridge the gap between them if needed.
Not everyone was born with a natural drive to understand plants and sow seeds, however, Lynn can surely make any perennial flower attractive by sharing her knowledge about it. Have you ever thought of throwing those nice pansies into your lunch salad? If not, join one of her walks to ask her about that and the thousands of other exciting plants growing in Amsterdam’s parks ! You may even leave with a bag of seeds…
Some other Amsterdam projects she mentioned :
To contact Lynn Shore please send an email at : firstname.lastname@example.org. If you wish to participate in this series of portraits as an interviewee or if you would like to suggest a name, please let me know at email@example.com. Thank you !