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The first International Seed Library Forum was held in Tucson, Arizona on May 3-6 and I was fortunate to be asked to participate on two panels on the program. Seed libraries are community programs that give members a means to share seeds they’ve grown with one another. They can get free seeds from the seed library to start or share the ones they’ve already been growing and saving. The number of seed libraries has increased at an exponential rate, especially in public libraries. Until now they have been loosely organized through the Seed Library Network and the Sister Seed Library List, but the time has come for more structure.
You may have heard that in the past year several state departments of agriculture have decided that, since seed libraries distribute seeds, they fall under the regulation of the state seed laws. You can find what your seed law says at the American Seed Trade Association website.
Understanding the legal issues and coming together as a united front is what brought us all together at the Forum It was particularly exciting for me because I was able to meet so many people I had written about in Seed Libraries. Where the seed laws might be interpreted to regulate seed libraries, legislation exempting them from the seed laws needs to be passed. Betsy Goodman of the Common Soil Seed Library told of her experience with that in Nebraska. We were counseled by two lawyers, Neil Thapar of the Sustainable Economies Law Center and Neil Hamilton from Drake University Agricultural Law Center.
There was more going on besides legal matters and you will find additional details about the week at Homeplace Earth. Seed librarians and others interested in seeds had a chance to mingle and trade ideas and stories. It is always nice to talk with someone involved in the same thing you are, especially when that thing is something as new as a seed library. Although the idea is new to the current population, freely trading seeds is how the people of the world evolved.
Since writing Seed Libraries, I have visited the seed library at Victoria, British Columbia and communicated by email with seed libraries in Cleveland, Ohio and Durham, North Carolina. These seed libraries were all represented at the Forum. There was talk of future events such as this. In the meantime, I would like to see regional gatherings of seed librarians develop. It would give support to local seed libraries in a way that cannot be met through posting on the Internet.
If you are involved with a seed library, get to know where the other seed share initiatives are in your region and start reaching out to them. Getting together to exchange ideas is as easy as friends meeting up at a coffee shop, although you would probably be gathering at one of the seed libraries for show-and-tell. Or, for those of you skilled in organizing events, you could scale up to a whole conference and bring in speakers. The more local/regional networks you have, the stronger you will be. In fact, the libraries might exchange seeds among themselves if their seed savers begin bringing in more seeds than an individual library needs. The advancement of seed libraries and keeping seeds in the hands of the people is in your hands.
Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at Homeplace Earth.
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