US Seed Libraries Mobilize to Protect Their Right to Share

In June, officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture alerted the Joseph T. Simpson Public Library in Mechanicsburg that their seed library was in violation of the Pennsylvania Seed Act of 2004. According to officials, the library would have to follow the prohibitively expensive procedures of large-scale commercial seed companies or only offer commercial seed. The first option is impractical and the second option would gut the exchange of its primary purpose to serve home gardeners who want to save and exchange their own seed.

The Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) reported in a recent article on Shareable.net that the Pennsylvania law may only apply to commercial seed operations. Despite what may be an incorrect interpretation of the law, other states are now considering adopting Pennsylvania's seed library protocol. This could kill a fast growing U.S. seed library movement.

The upside to the crackdown is that in the weeks since, seed librarians from across the country have come together. As David King, founder of the Seed Library of Los Angeles (SLOLA) puts it, “The phone lines and emails lines were burning up as the seed library community turned from shock and disbelief to mobilizing to protect their efforts.” The goal now is to direct that energy toward protecting seed libraries, which are a cornerstone in efforts to foster the genetic diversity of food and strengthen food security. “This is something that is really important to a lot of communities,” says Neil Thapar, staff attorney at SELC. “There’s a lot of static energy that exists around saving seed libraries, growing seed libraries, and how they relate to this idea of food sovereignty and seed sovereignty.”

Thapar points out that this movement already has traction in some communities, especially as it relates to the anti-GMO movement, but that the situation in Pennsylvania has raised the profile of the importance of genetic diversity in food. One goal for Shareable and SELC is to harness this energy by activating all the people who want to do something about it and need an avenue to do it. Working with Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library and the seed library community at large, they are planning an advocacy campaign to protect seed libraries.  

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