Weed stories #1

Our first guest is Gaja Osole, co-founder of Trajna, the slovenian collective that Herbes Folles support through 1% for the Planet. Trajna creates innovative and sustainable solutions for the management of invasive species, and their work is just AMAZING.

      ৩ What is a weed for you?

I like to think of weeds as plants with an extraordinary ability to thrive in any conditions given; in a concrete crack, a monoculture field or in a living room of an abandoned house. In my eyes weeds embody creative, feral carriers of life, pioneers, healers. Without weeds, there will be no forests! 

      ৩ From the plants considered like that by many, which one is your favorite, and why? What do you like to do with it?

My favourite weed is actually a group of weeds, we mostly recognise by the name of "invasive alien plants". Their controversial nature keeps on inspiring me. They have this unusual character to disturb us and bring us together: to them we dedicate special policies & laws, we discuss about their destructive nature in parliaments and scientific conferences, they evoke our creativity and fear and direct us towards practices of care and protection.

I like them, since these groups of weeds are passing to us an important message that can not be accessed through the fields of (conservation) biology or any single scientific method. Their rapid spread calls for a sensitive observer that deeply understands historical, economical, ecological, climatic and political pathways constructing the ecosystems of our present times. Their introduction and spread are connected to big historical events such as colonialism and industrial revolution and one of the main agents of their global dissemination is linked to the extractive nature of capitalist economy. From the ecological perspective - they appear as the novel pioneering species, shaping conditions for life in our damaged ecosystems - and to understand this, one needs to be aware of the role of biological disturbances and successions. Only by including all these perspectives into account we can shape our opinions and later management strategies linked to those novel, seemingly unwanted, species.

Me and my team of coworkers in Trajna collective are exploring invasive plants through a critical perspective. They make us question the connections we are reinforcing in order to run our globalised worlds. Monoculture farming, global trade, intense urbanisation and industrialisation are the driving vectors that enable the spread of (invasive) species. But what is really invasive here? The plants or the economies we are putting into play?

For that reason we like to pick their abandoned biomass in the neglected spots in the city and use it to create new goods which evoke different kinds of production and exchange processes. We mobilised dry stems of the despised Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) to kick off a new paper brand - Notweed paper - a brand built on the pillars of solidarity, curiosity, cooperation and care for the land. We explored the potential of some woody plants like the Tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) to grow edible mushrooms and created a series of wooden furniture made from Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos).

      ৩ How do you define your relationship with plants, and how did it start?

:) I like plants! I like them as they teach me a lot about life on Earth. And human nature. Since I was a child, they had a charming power to stop me for their attention. My mother likes to tell this story of our summer hike to the mountains. Instead of reaching to the top, our final destination was the starting meadow where I wanted to explore every plant growing. She taught me about the names of many wild plants and trees from our local area. I was a fast learner. And my grandmother Danica, she owned a spectacular garden and a greenhouse by the Adriatic sea, where I spent a lot of the summers as a kid, helping her with watering the plants, playing with them, admiring them. Somehow, I was always very much connected to plants. I have even quit my graphic design career and redirected my creative practice to spend more time with them! 

      ৩ Which is your preferred "plant place"?

I am a forager by nature and I don't have a particular plant space I stick to. Wherever I am, I find an opportunity to explore vegetation that shapes the ecosystems. On my travels I am curious to look for invasive species. Like McDonalds, they can be found wherever we go. I feel safe and calm surrounded with plants. Where they grow, there is hope for continuation of life.

      ৩ Could you tell me a little bit about Trajna, and how is it lived by Ljubljana inhabitants?

Trajna was set up in 2017 as a creative cooperation between me and my colleague Andrej Koruza. At the time we met, I was intensely exploring the useful properties of japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) and Andrej was working as an interactive artist and craftsman. By spontaneously merging our skills and interests, we created Symbiocene, a project for which we employed the wood of the invasive Tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) to create a series of beehives. Through this artistic gesture we wanted to propose a way to use invasive plants to support, instead of destroy our ecosystems (as bees represent key species for maintaining our planetary biodiversity). Symbiocene was a starting point of our NGO Trajna, that today almost obsessively focuses on exploring creative and sustainable ways to work with invasive plants. For the past 3 years we were a part of APPLAUSE project, in which nine partners are pioneering a circular economic model through employing the biomass of invasive plants that grow in the city of Ljubljana. In this project, Trajna is in charge of developing a series of wooden and paper products from invasive plants and run creative workshops. After the lockdown is over, we will start setting up our own production space, a laboratory for working with human and more-then-human communities, that will be standing on one of the neglected construction sites in Ljubljana. And finally, as we want to strengthen the resilience of our NGO and base our practice on diverse economies, we initiated a rather commercial project - Notweed paper brand - through which we trade sustainable paper alternative made from invasive plants.

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