Citizens told their seed library violates Seed Act
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has told a public library that its seed library violates the state's Seed Act and must cease operating.
We're not convinced. The law deals with the sale of seed, but the seed library wasn't selling seed. It was enabling people to "borrow" seed and replace it at the end of the season. The Dept of Ag bureaucrat defending the move appears to have invented a scattergun range of potential problems with the seed, such as mislabelling, spreading invasive plants, and so-called "agri-terrorism", none of which have been proven to have actually happened.
Sadly the seed library organisers have capitulated and won't be running their seed library after all. But as the Dept of Ag has voiced its intention to "crack down" on other seed libraries, we hope that someone at one such library calls in a lawyer to challenge this appalling violation of human rights.
It ranks with the growing tendency in the US to criminalise veg growing in gardens.
The right to grow veg and to exchange and give away seeds are fundamental to keeping food in the control of the people and out of the hands of Monsanto and its ilk.
Read an analysis of this episode by Prof Devon Pena of the University of Washington here.
1. Agri-Terrorism? Town's seed library shut down
2. Department of Agriculture cracks down on seed libraries
1. Agri-Terrorism? Town's Seed Library Shut Down
by Andrea Germanos
Common Dreams, 4 Aug 2014
* Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture tells Mechanicsburg library its seed library is a violation
A public library in small Pennsylvania town offered a new public resource for its patrons: a seed library. That is, until the state Department of Agriculture pulled the rug out from under the plan.
Launched on April 26, the seed library at Mechanicsburg's Joseph T. Simpson Public Library would have held all heirloom, and preferable organic, seed. Its first seed trove, with help from the Cumberland County Commission for Women, came from Seed Savers Exchange, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving heirloom seeds.
Library patrons could "check out" the seeds to plant, and, if all went well, at the end of the plant's growing season, they'd save its seeds and return them to the library to replenish the stock. If the crop failed or the borrowers were just unable to save seeds, they were allowed to bring back store-bought heirloom seeds instead.
In the process of this seed library circulation, patrons would be bringing a new use to the library space, exchanging seeds with their community members and practicing the art of saving seeds — something farmers have done for years but which stands at odds with proprietary seeds.
"People have been really excited to have this opportunity to borrow seeds," Adult Services Director Rebecca Swanger told local news ABC27 in May. "That way they don't have to purchase a whole packet of seeds and end up not using a lot of them."
According to reporting by the Carlisle Sentinel on July 31, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture sent a letter to the library stating that the seed library violated the state's Seed Act of 2004.
While the Act focuses on seeds that are sold, Cumberland County Library System Executive Director Jonelle Darr told The Sentinel that there could also be a problem with seeds being mislabeled and potentially invasive, and noted that the Department indicated it would "crack down" at other seed libraries within the state.
The Sentinel continues:
"[Cumberland County] commissioner Barbara Cross noted that such seed libraries on a large scale could very well pose a danger.
"'Agri-terrorism is a very, very real scenario,' she said. 'Protecting and maintaining the food sources of America is an overwhelming challenge ... so you’ve got agri-tourism on one side and agri-terrorism on the other.'"
But not all towns seem to agree with Cross' take that seed libraries pose a danger, as a wave of emerging seed libraries is emerging in towns across the country including Alameda and Richmond, California, Basalt, Colorado and LaCrosse, Wisconsin.
It makes sense, really, that these public institutions would be involved in seed libraries. As the Duluth, Minnesota seed library states in its values: "Public libraries play a vital role in communities as a repository for a diversity of ideas and shared knowledge for the public good. Similarly, seed is a public resource and shared legacy – it must be managed in a manner that benefits the public good."
2. Department of Agriculture cracks down on seed libraries
The Sentinel, 31 Jul 2014
It was a letter officials with the Cumberland County Library System were surprised to receive.
The system had spent some time working in partnership with the Cumberland County Commission for Women and getting information from the local Penn State Ag Extension office to create a pilot seed library at Mechanicsburg’s Joseph T. Simpson Public Library.
The effort was a new seed-gardening initiative that would allow for residents to “borrow” seeds and replace them with new ones harvested at the end of the season.
Mechanicsburg’s effort had launched on April 26 as part of the borough’s Earth Day Festival, but there were plenty of similar efforts that had already cropped up across the state before the local initiative.
Through researching other efforts and how to start their own, Cumberland County Library System Executive Director Jonelle Darr said Thursday that no one ever came across information that indicated anything was wrong with the idea. Sixty residents had signed up for the seed library in Mechanicsburg, and officials thought it could grow into something more.
That was, until, the library system received a letter from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture telling them they were in violation of the Seed Act of 2004.
“We did talk to the county extension office before establishing the seed library,” Darr told Cumberland County commissioners at their meeting Thursday morning. “We were never apprised of the Seed Act.”
The commissioners were equally flabbergasted by the change of events, as well as with how the agriculture department handled the investigation — sending a high-ranking official and lawyers to a meeting with the library.
Darr explained that the Seed Act primarily focuses on the selling of seeds — which the library was not doing — but there is also a concern about seeds that may be mislabeled (purposefully or accidentally), the growth of invasive plant species, cross-pollination and poisonous plants.
The department told the library it could not have the seed library unless its staff tested each seed packet for germination and other information. Darr said that was clearly not something staff could handle.
“This is not our core mission,” she said. “We thought we were doing a good thing in helping the Cumberland County Commission for Women (who requested the idea and the library’s participation).”
Darr said she believes the library system’s proximity to Harrisburg, as well as media coverage of the seed library, prompted the Department of Agriculture to act in this case.
She said the department indicated to her that it would continue to crack down on seed libraries that have established themselves in the state.
Some of the commissioners questioned whether that was the best use of the department’s time and money, but commissioner Barbara Cross noted that such seed libraries on a large scale could very well pose a danger.
“Agri-terrorism is a very, very real scenario,” she said. “Protecting and maintaining the food sources of America is an overwhelming challenge ... so you’ve got agri-tourism on one side and agri-terrorism on the other.”
Cross said it made sense that the department would want to tackle the issue now while the efforts were small.
Though the seed library is no longer an option, Darr said the department has left it open to the library to host “seed swap” days where private individuals can meet and exchange seeds. As long as the library system itself is not accepting seeds as donations, Darr said such an event would meet the requirements of the act.