Maciej Podyma

Ashoka Fellow
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Poland
Fellow Since 2018
This description of Maciej Podyma's work was prepared when Maciej Podyma was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2018 .

Introduction

Maciej is reinventing flower meadows and bringing them into the cities. With this, he launches conversations about biodiversity and bridging the urban and rural culture by empowering inhabitants of the cities to have an active role in answering this challenge.

L'idée nouvelle

Along with an increasing urbanization, biodiversity becomes more and more scarce and devastation of natural resources is progressing. Cities’ greenery is dominated by evenly mowed/trimmed and regularly watered lawns. Lawns, that used to be planted only in king’s gardens, as a sign of luxury, became common worldwide. From biological point of view grass lawns are a monoculture. A monoculture that occupies 1,9% of the surface of the continental US, thus being the single largest irrigated crop in the country (by NASA in 2015). What is more the biggest soil pollution comes from fertilization of lawns. Lawn maintenance produces much more air pollution than grass can purify. A lawn mower with two-cylinder engine during 1h of work produces as much benzopyrene as a regular car during a 3000 mill (almost 5000 km) ride.
By bringing conversations about biodiversity back to the cities Maciej is bridging the cultures and empowering habitats of the cities to have an active role in solving this matter. Maciej envisions urban greeneries as biodiverse zones where pollinators and other animals have food and shelter, water is restored, smog is naturalized.
Maciej, who grew up in the family of biologists, realized that in order to boost biodiversity and counteract devastation of natural resources, monoculture lawns need to be replaced with a solution that nature has created itself - the beautiful and biodiverse flower meadows. Maciej naturally and effectively nurtures biodiversity and counteracts devastation of natural resources such as air, water and soil by giving back to the wider public an opportunity of sowing meadows instead of lawns as a part of the urban greenery, next to roads, at embankments, roofs and backyard gardens. Finally, Maciej in cooperation with the University of Life and Science and The Botanic Garden in Warsaw, run several research studies on various effects of creation of the flower meadows. One of the research studies has already confirmed the effects of catching air pollution particles by a meadow grown from an anti-smog seeds mix created by Maciej’s team.
Maciej with his team has already trained 5000 persons on the role of flower meadows in the ecosystem, changed the local law in 8 counties and saw 85 flower meadows in 8 cities. Only in Cracow 20 flower meadows were created, which is 100 000 m2 of biodiverse, anti-smog, beautiful and natural space. Social franchise model of horticultural therapy is in process of implementation (with 6 rehab centers) to popularize horticultural therapy and professional activation of formerly excluded persons and in order to create new branches of biodiverse and natural meadow’s seeds bank. The Meadow Foundation shares knowledge and know-how about sowing and mending meadows and have already 2 independent units implementing their concept. Dissemination strategy based on ready to use offers for participatory budgeting was implemented through more than 150 independently submitted civic projects.

Le problème

Monoculture lawns occupy 1,9% of the surface of the continental US, thus being the single largest irrigated crop in the country (by NASA in 2015). What is more the biggest soil pollution comes from fertilization of lawn and lawn maintenance produces much more air pollution than grass can purify. A lawn mower with two-cylinder engine during 1h of work produces as much benzopyrene as a regular car during 3000 miles (almost 5000 km) ride.

People exploit natural resources in a way that endangers the survival of various organisms on Earth and thus reduces populations of species and genetic diversity, which together form a complex entangled system of biodiversity necessary for the survival of the humans. It effects in decrease of species of fauna and flora. There has been a dramatic decline in grassland butterflies of almost 50% between 1990 and 2011 with no sign of recovery. In UK 97% of traditional meadows have disappeared and 75% of pollinators become extinct. What is important 75% of the world's food crops depend at least in part on pollination.

Despite the huge losses in the biodiversity there is still very limited awareness about biodiversity. Only 19% of Poles declare having heard the term “biodiversity” in 2010. Research from 2015 shows that the majority of European Union citizens have heard the term "biodiversity", but less than one third know what it means.

The domination of monoculture lawns in the cities does not support the idea of biodiversity protection. Lawns became the only option for urban greeneries. Local laws in many European cities require setting up lawns or even give penalties for neglected lawns, areas with too long grass or natural, diverse composition of plants. Monocultural lawns cause widespread occurrence of the so called “green desert” phenomenon – places where plants do grow but they represent two or three species and thus are not biodiverse in any sense. Maintaining lawns, which were historically a sign of luxury (before they became common worldwide, lawns used to be planted only in royal gardens) has high biological costs.

Citizens don’t feel personal responsibility to increase biodiversity and don’t know how to do it. About a third of respondents (31%) consider they are making personal efforts to protect biodiversity and nature, but the most common action taken to protect biodiversity is respecting nature protection rules such as not leaving waste in natural areas (92%). In Poland the issue of maintenance of biodiversity is not considered as personal responsibility but seen as a domain of state authorities - almost 60% of people indicate the state is responsible for this sphere.

La stratégie

Maciej has not only a positive impact on environment and biodiversity, but he also reshaping urban spaces, by changing a landscape from green biodiverse deserts to wilder biodiverse flower meadows. What is more, he also empowers people to positive actions thru education and demonstrating real beauty of flower meadows.
In order to make flower meadows a real and sustainable alternative for lawns Maciej constructed a model including 5 elements: education, advocacy, seed banks, services and research. The Foundation constantly operates on all levels, considering vegetation and seed collection seasons. Firstly, education and promotion is a key element of building awareness about biodiversity and superiority of flower meadows over lawns. Direct services, training in cooperation with other NGOs are supported by reviving and bringing to the cities the centuries old oral and practical traditions related to the flower meadows such as storytelling, using herbs for cooking or healing, as well as using the meadow flowers in design.

Secondly, city greeneries are strictly controlled by local laws. That’s why adjusting the local law is an important step to bigger impact and allows to sow meadows in places where only shortly trimmed grass was an option. Thanks to trainings for local administration, Maciej was able to successfully advocate for adjusting local law in 8 counties to allow sowing meadows in the areas where only lawns could have been created before. As a result of that people create meadow projects and get them funded by public fund and implement the project themselves.

Next step is creating local seed banks, which are the true assurance of biodiversity. What is important seed banks are not only a spot for production of wild meadow seeds, but also create a tangible social impact. Maciej creates biodiverse and natural meadow’s seed banks that are maintained in cooperation with rehab centers. For rehab facilities it is an opportunity for horticultural (garden) therapy and professional activation of persons going out of various crisis situations in their lives (drug addiction, alcoholism, homelessness). Those people also gain a chance to bring added value by increasing biodiversity. Six meadows seeds banks will be fully operational 2020.

Last but not least, The Meadow Foundation is an excellence center for sowing and maintaining wild flower meadows. They provide services of professional sowing and maintaining of functional meadows but most of all train other entities (offline and online) how to do it. This part of Maciej’s strategy is also the main fundraising source of The Foundation. Maciej shares he knowledge and know-how about sowing and mending meadows and have already independent units in other parts of the country implementing their concept. Finally, Maciej in cooperation with the University of Life and Science and The Botanic Garden in Warsaw, run several research studies on various effects of creation of the flower meadows. One of the research studies has already confirmed the positive effects of neutralizing air pollution particles by a meadow from an anti-smog seeds mix created by Maciej’s team. Research is an important part of Maciej’s strategy, because it allows to experiment and test, but also because it gives the irrefutable proof that meadows increase biodiversity and counteract devastation of natural resources, which is useful in education as well as in advocacy
The impact of Maciej’s work is visible in Polish cities by habitats and visitors. Several insects from The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species were observed by researchers at two meadows in the city of Warsaw. They assume it’s return is a direct impact of Maciej’s work of creating shelters and food stocks for them. The ecological impact is gained thanks to mobilizing social capital around meadows. Dissemination strategy based on ready to use offers for participatory budgeting was effective in more than 150 independently submitted projects. Over 1250 meadows were sown using The Meadow Foundation’s seeds without the team’s direct participation. Thanks to Maciej’s work city dwellers are empowered to nurture biodiversity themselves and to counteract devastation of natural resources. Maciej is now preparing an open source scaling strategy to spread the beneficial impact of flower meadows beyond Poland.

La personne

Maciej grew up in a family where the love of nature was very present. Almost everyone in his family was educated in the field of natural sciences. Maciej’s mother works as a biology teacher and has often received “gifts” from her pupils such as orphaned nestlings or hurt lizards. Their home was full of animals they had to take care for. As a child Maciej loved to wear yellow
t-shirts to lure insects and pollinators to observe them.

He has graduated biology at Warsaw University of Life Science and worked for 4 years at Birds of Poland Association. From this experience Maciej learned about the reality of the NGO Sector in Poland and its very common struggle with grant-dependency. This lesson combined with scientific roots spurred his impetus to act. During this time, Maciej became one of the 3 main founders who together launched a unique partnership called Open Jazdów, which is a community gathered around a Warsaw settlement of wooden houses in the very center of the city, offering social, cultural and ecological programs for the visitors. They maintain a biodiverse village in the very city center of Warsaw (4 minutes’ walk from the parliament building).

Maciej’s direct stimulus to start the Foundation came after a decision of The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Poland that did not take into account maintaining of biodiversity in the Rural Development Program 2014-2020. It was a moment when Maciej realized that if he wanted something to be done, he had to initiate it himself. In 2013 Maciej together with his brother Karol, founded The Meadow Foundation.