By Mark Schapiro for Pacific Standard
Illustration: Edel Rodriguez
Excerpt: Inside every seed library — and there are more than 400 of them now — is another tale. Here are seeds that have been locally cultivated, saved, and passed along from farmer to farmer. They are repositories of genetic information that have been quietly spreading across America during the last decade. They tell the story of how, at a time of unprecedented climatic stress on our food supply, people are fighting to expand their range of crop choices to respond to changing climate conditions.
As one company after another is purchased by the giants that now dominate the seed trade — most notably Bayer-Monsanto, Syngenta, and DuPont-Pioneer, which together have purchased hundreds of locally based seed companies over the past 20 years — the libraries are defying efforts to homogenize the seeds.
In 2014, a small non-governmental organization in Oakland, the Sustainable Economies Law Center, which promotes legal reforms to encourage locally based economic initiatives, got involved.
Neil Thapar, a staff attorney at the center, said that the Pennsylvania threat was a wake-up call for them too. The seed libraries were indeed in a legal gray zone: They were disseminating seeds not authorized or tested by the states, which do so to protect consumers from seeds that might deliver a different plant than promised. But they were also not quite illegal, since they were not distributing patented seed varieties, which had gotten farmers in trouble in the past. A public pressure campaign convinced the newly elected Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, to change course in Mechanicsburg. Thapar and his colleagues went on to work with local groups to get laws passed in the Minnesota and Nebraska legislatures exempting the libraries from seed-registration laws, essentially affirming their legal status.
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