The sharing of seed is an ancient practice, ensuring the survival of the human species, the local biodiversity of life, as well as local food security. If one gets philosophical about it, one could even say that the seed embodies a traditional, holistic knowledge of life that is as unbroken as the existence of the seed itself, and that is certainly a beautiful thing to think about.
But informal seed sharing -- a favourite pastime of gardeners everywhere -- may be considered illegal by some American states. According to a recent report by Mother Earth News, a number of states have laws in the books that require getting permits to sell seeds, and requires that they are properly labelled and tested, which makes sense if it's for commercial purposes. But some states actually including "giving away" in their definition of "selling," and that's where problems are arising. For small-time gardeners, informal seed swaps and seed libraries are a way to share in the spirit of cooperation, and as a way to preserve the legacy of local plant biodiversity. To apply rules to hobbyists that are designed to regulate commercial operations is a bit mind-boggling, to say in the least.
To get some insight into this issue, John Kohler of online gardening show Growing Your Greens speaks to Neil Thapar, staff attorney at the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC), and Rebecca Newburn from the Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library:
You may wonder what is the big deal, but the SELC explains the history and legality of seed libraries and seed sharing on Shareable, in the aftermath of a Pennsylvania seed library being told by authorities that it was in violation of the Seed Act:
Ironically, this is in the name of “protecting and maintaining the food sources of America.” In this news article that went viral, regulators said that “agri-terrorism is a very, very real scenario.” In reality, seed libraries have emerged to protect our food sources and ensure access to locally adapted and heirloom varieties. The public’s access to seeds has been decreasing since a 1980 Supreme Court ruling that a life-form could be patented. Since then, big seed companies have shifted away from open-pollinated seeds to patented hybridized and genetically engineered varieties. The companies prohibit farmers from saving and replanting such seeds, requiring that they buy new seeds each year. Counter to this trend, seed libraries give members free seeds and request that members later harvest seed and give back to the library thereby growing the pool of seeds available to everyone.
It's clear that the recent spread of seed libraries and interest in growing one's own food is coming head to head against big agri-business. Seed sharing is a simple act that ensures food security, nurtures a culture of cooperation, shares traditional knowledge and grows a direct connection to nature -- but it is something that should be protected from corporate agendas, and should be the right of every small-time gardener and farmer out there. So how can we ensure the survival of this ancient practice that still has relevance today? First, get informed. Secondly, act by participating in local seed libraries, seed swaps, or by starting a local seed library. Sign the Save Seed Sharing petition. And of course, try growing your own food!
Read more over at Shareable.