← Back to news feed

US seed libraries are being threatened by gov't regulation. here's how to act.

Posted: November 28 2014
(From the Wall Street Journal and Shareable.net)

There are an estimated 300 so-called seed libraries in towns and cities across the U.S., including Boston, Cleveland, Nashville and Tucson, up from about a dozen in 2010. Most are affiliated with public libraries, where residents can "borrow" seeds to plant in private gardens, then return others they harvest.
The rise of community seed libraries, which experts say is a throwback to a preindustrial era tradition, reflects increasing interest in locally grown food and urban gardening, as well as concerns over genetically modified crops. Advocates say the programs also nurture locally diverse, hardier seeds that can better withstand a shifting climate.
But the movement has attracted the attention of state regulators, who are taking a hard look at whether such libraries could spread invasive or even poisonous plants, and if they are distributing seeds that will reliably grow. Officials in Maryland, which like other states has seed laws similar to Pennsylvania's, adopted the latter state's approach and now also began barring libraries from distributing homegrown seeds. Pennsylvania law requires seed sellers or distributors to conduct germination tests on seed varieties, which typically requires testing about 400 seeds for each lot at a cost of about $25 per lot. Even if libraries had enough seeds to test, the costs likely would be untenable.
Some advocates are pushing to exempt libraries from state seed laws. The laws primarily were intended to regulate commercial ventures, protect farmers and prevent the spread of dangerous plants on a huge scale, said Neil Thapar, a staff attorney with the Sustainable Economies Law Center in Oakland, Calif. Click HERE to read more of this article from the Wall Street Journal.
There are numerous ways to support seed libraries. Here are seven actions you can take to join the movement:
1. Join Your Local Seed Library: If there is a seed library in your city or town, join it and learn how to save seeds. If there isn't one, King suggests learning how to save seeds and joining with other gardeners in your community to form a seed library. Find a seed library near you
2. Stay Informed: Much of the seed library activism is in the planning stages at this point so it’s important to stay up on the issues and current happenings. Good places to start are seedlibraries.net and Setting the Record Straight on the Legality of Seed Libraries. You can also join the SELC mailing list and the Shareable mailing list to receive updates about the seed libraries movement in your inbox.
3. Help Create the Seed Law Tool Shed: Seed laws and related information for each state are being collected in this Hackpad document created by SELC. An open resource, the Seed Law Tool Shed is being built by concerned citizens and seed library activists who want to learn more about seed laws and contribute to this valuable database. SELC invites people to contribute to the document.
4. Attend the National Seed Library Summit: An in-person forum for information sharing and solutions-thinking is the upcoming National Seed Library Summit. Taking place on Wednesday, September 10 from 4-6 p.m. at the National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, Ca., the summit, now in its fourth year, is a gathering of seed library activists and supporters from around the country. It's is an opportunity for seed librarians to meet, share best practices, and learn about challenges and how other communities are problem solving. This year, the seed library crackdown is at the top of the agenda.
The summit is an unofficial part of the National Heirloom Expo and its location will be determined at the expo. It will then be posted on SeedLibraries.net and the SLOLA blog. You can also ask for the location at the SLOLA booth at the expo. King says that a statement from the Seed Library Summit regarding the current seed libraries situation can be expected following the event.
5. Reach Out to Local Officials: Contact your state's seed control official and ask them for an official letter clarifying that the state seed law does not apply to seed libraries. Then, post any response letter in the Seed Law Tool Shed. Find your state's seed control official here
6. Get Involved with Legislative Campaigns: A petition to protect seed libraries from unnecessary regulation is in the works. When the opportunity to sign it, as well as get involved with legislative campaigns and possibly vote on seed library issues come around, do so, and encourage others to do so as well.
7. Educate Your Community: Start talking about the importance of seed libraries, biodiversity, locally-adapted varieties, food security and community-level exchanges now. The more people there are talking about these inter-connected issues, the better chance they have of finding allies and supporters, from the neighbor-level up to the regulatory level.