Sowing a Culture of Interdependence
This article was emailed to me by the Seed Savers Exchange Newsroom for sharing on our social network.
Seed Libraries are no threat to agriculture
By John Torgrimson
Recently, state governments in Pennsylvania and Maryland have intervened to prevent the free distribution of home-saved vegetable seeds through public seed libraries in their states, citing legislation meant to regulate the commercial sale of seeds.
People have been saving and sharing seeds for millennia. These are uniquely human activities that facilitated the domestication of plants and in turn made agriculture, and human culture as we know it today, possible. Thomas Jefferson belonged to seed exchanges and introduced many varieties at Monticello at a time when the sharing of seeds among farmers and gardeners was the primary way seeds were distributed in the United States.
Saving and sharing seeds can help us feel more self-sufficient and independent, can help us build meaningful relationships with our friends and neighbors, and can empower us to participate in building a stronger and more secure food system. And despite what some have suggested, seeds can be valuable, safe, and healthy without laboratory germination tests or government licenses.
Since 1975, Seed Savers Exchange has encouraged thousands of gardeners to save and share seeds as amateurs. Together, they have protected agricultural diversity by stewarding tens of thousands of heirloom and open-pollinated seeds that would have otherwise disappeared if left only to license-holding, germination-testing seed companies. (Moon and Stars watermelon and Cherokee Purple tomato are just two that come to mind).
The seed library movement is growing in response to renewed interest in community seed stewardship and increased local food access. Seed libraries and community seed banks accomplish many incredible things:
- they increase seed access, allowing low-income families to grow their own food;
- they support and encourage regionally adapted varieties by engaging a community in plant selection;
- they protect rare varieties that may not be maintained by the commercial marketplace; and
- they create excitement and interest in seeds, the source for our food.
Because of these very positive outcomes, and the overwhelming community support that these initiatives attract, Seed Savers Exchange remains a staunch and enthusiastic supporter of seed libraries. In fact, we regularly supply seed libraries with their initial outlay of seeds to distribute to their participating library patrons.
Seed Savers Exchange encourages seed libraries to follow best practices when distributing their seeds:
- advertise, proudly, that the seeds offered were grown by amateurs - no guarantee of 100% germination, no guarantee of absolute varietal purity only a guarantee that the seeds were produced in good faith and spirit by friends and neighbors interested in connecting their community to food and seeds.
- label donated seeds with the name of the grower, date of harvest, variety name, crop type, plant description, plant history, and growing conditions - the next grower should be very well informed about the seeds they are planting.
- do not distribute very old seeds or seeds of unknown origin - it is important to give patrons the best chance of success and satisfaction in their gardens so they return again next year.
- organize gardening and/or seed saving resources to educate the community and help seed library participants produce high quality seed.
Seed libraries pose no real threat to agriculture when they act as middlemen in the exchange of seeds. In fact, the opposite is true: they fulfill the obligations we humans owe to our forefathers who have been saving seeds for more than 12,000 years.
John Torgrimson is the Executive Director of Seed Savers Exchange, a non-profit organization based near Decorah, Iowa, whose mission is to collect, maintain and distribute heirloom and open-pollinated seeds.
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