Moving Beyond the Fork: Side with the Seeds

By: Wes King

“Some side with the leaves. Some side with the seeds” – Jeff Tweedy

I side with the seeds. How about you? Well, actually I side with leaves and the seeds but when it comes to “Moving Beyond the Fork” and public policy this spring I am siding with the seeds, championing legislation (HB2487) to protect seed libraries from unnecessary regulation.

seedsThe local food movement is more than just about buying, selling and eating local sustainably produced food, it’s about reconnecting with nature – the soil, water, sun and seeds that produce the food we all eat. As part of the larger local food movement, gardening, whether at home or at a community garden, is growing in popularity across the country. Not only are everyday people of all walks of life reconnecting with the nature by gardening, they are saving and sharing seeds with their neighbors, building community, preserving heirloom seed varieties and addressing, albeit in a small way, concerns over the corporate dominance of seeds and genes.

One of the ways communities have been encouraging gardening and community building is through the development of seed libraries. Seed libraries take many different forms but, in general, they are repositories meant to hold, donate and receive donations of seeds to and from the public for the purpose of encouraging gardening and genetic preservation. Some seed libraries are run by not-for-profit community organizations others are ran by community libraries or agricultural extension offices.

Unfortunately, starting last year some seed libraries in the U.S. started running into problems. According to the Wall Street Journal, “In June, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture told a public library in Mechanicsburg, Pa., that it couldn’t distribute homegrown seeds. The agency said a planned seed-exchange program would run afoul of a 2004 state law requiring anyone who distributes seeds to conduct certain quality tests, adhere to labeling and storage rules and acquire a license.”  While seed laws, like Illinois’ seed laws, are intended to protect consumers and farmers from unscrupulous businesses engaged in commercial seeds production and sales, most laws are silent when it comes to things like seeds libraries, including Illinois’ laws, leaving a void to be filled by the interpretation of regulators.

seed savingIllinois has at least 10 seed libraries operating in all regions of the state from the Du Quin Seed Library in southern Illinois that is operated by the University of Illinois Extension to the Jane Adams Hull House Seed Library in Chicago. There are several more across the state that are in the early stages of being created.

Regulators in Illinois have not indicated that they have any interest in shutting down seed libraries but why wait for them to change their minds? Illinois Stewardship Alliance is working with Dekalb County Community Gardens, Representative Bob Pritchard from Dekalb and a number of others at the Illinois General Assembly to pass HB 2487 which would exempt seed libraries from Illinois’ commercial seed laws.

Interested in supporting our efforts to protect seed libraries? Then join us for our annual local food lobby day in Springfield on March 25th and help us build support for the passage of HB 2487. Learn more and register for that event by clicking here.