The California Seed Exchange Democracy Act will be up for a vote in the State Senate Agriculture Committee on June 21. We need your help to pass this bill to legalize seed sharing!Read more
April’s always an exciting time for me! The legislative session is in full gear, which means that I’m engaging with partners and legislators and speaking up for policies to support stronger local food and agricultural economies. Earth Day is right around the corner and the spring rain reminds me that the seeds I’ve planted are ready to sprout.
Speaking of seeds, we recently had a hearing for our bill to protect seed sharing, the California Seed Exchange Democracy Act (AB 1810). It passed out of the Assembly Agriculture Committee, in part due to the work of these excellent advocates and official sponsors of the bill!Read more
In 2016, as part of our Save Seed Sharing campaign, Sustainable Economies Law Center worked with partners across California to pass AB 1810, the California Seed Exchange Democracy Act, which protects seed libraries and exchanges from legal barriers imposed by the state seed law. California became the fourth state, behind Minnesota, Nebraska, and Illinois, to pass legislation recognizing the rights of farmers and gardeners who save seeds and share them within their community. We couldn't have done it without the help, advice, and commitment from a host of partners and collaborators within the broader food and agriculture advocacy community. THANK YOU!
Do you live in a state without the Seed Exchange Democracy Act? Do you want to advocate for seed democracy? We've created a toolkit of resources to help you do just that, including sample legislation, local resolutions, letters of support, and more! As part of our commitment to transformative grassroots policymaking, we've set out to create replicable models for state-level policy change that can be used by community-based advocates around the country. Click below to download the toolkit!
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After our month-long #PeoplePoweredEconomies campaign, the results are in: you rock! We continue to be motivated by a sense of both urgency and opportunity to create people powered economies everywhere, and YOU give us the inspiration and support we need to make that happen. This is what a People Powered SELC looks like:
- Over 150 donors during the month of May
- 50 new Community Members
- Over $20,000 pledged
- Hundreds of dollars raised for our allies Richmond Grows Seed Library (Richmond, CA), Cooperation Jackson (Jackson, MS), and Phat Beets Produce (Oakland, CA)
- Oh yeah, and this…
In the 8 months since we launched the Save Seed Sharing campaign, we've made incredible progress in protecting people's rights to share seeds! Will you support us in continuing to cultivate this work and People Powered Economies?!Read more
February 11, 2015
It’s easy to take seeds for granted. Tiny dry pods hidden in packets and sacks, they make a brief appearance as gardeners and farmers collect them for future planting then later drop them into soil. They are not “what’s for dinner,” yet without them there would be no dinner. Seeds are the forgotten heroes of food—and of life itself.
Sharing these wellsprings of sustenance may sound innocuous enough, yet this increasingly popular exchange—and wider seed access—is up against a host of legal and economic obstacles. The players in this surreal saga, wherein the mere sharing of seeds is under attack, range from agriculture officials interpreting seed laws, to powerful corporations expanding their proprietary and market control.
You've rolled up your sleeves, planted some seeds, even attended a seed swap to encourage local seed sharing. Now, it's time to roll your sleeves back down and flex your citizen muscles to create laws and policies that protect and promote seed sharing. Here are some tips that can help you get started!
In addition to these tips, read Shareable's "How to Start a Seed Sharing Campaign in Your Town" by Cat Johnson.
Q. Who should I talk to first?
A. If your city or town has a seed library, regular community seed swap, seed bank, or other seed sharing organization, you should talk to them first. Tell them you support seed sharing and that you are interested in advocating for policies that support seed sharing. Some of the people you meet may not be aware that your state has a seed law that might restrict seed sharing, and they will appreciate you for sharing this information with them.
If your city doesn't yet have any seed sharing organizations, then call your city councilor and ask to meet with her to explain why you think the city should support the creation of a seed library.
Q. Who else should I talk to?
A. A key part of successful advocacy is building collective power. Working with others who share similar visions and goals will not only motivate you, but also build a stronger support structure for your advocacy efforts. Community gardens, master gardeners, local farmers, community development organizations, food security organizations, anti-hunger organizations, are just some of the groups that will likely share your vision for a more resilient local food system that is based on collective free access to the seed commons. Call these people and tell them that you want to start a seed library, support your existing seed library, or grow the seed sharing movement locally.
Q. How do I approach local elected officials?
A. Pick up the phone and call them! Now, you may not get to speak to them the first go around (or maybe you will!), but be sure to let the staff person know that you are a constituent in the councilor's district and that you would like to speak to her about a community-based project that will benefit the rest of the city. Councilors tend to have busy schedules, so when you do get an opportunity to speak with one be sure you have a clear message to share. Consider printing out a summary of the points you want to make to give to her when you meet. In short, be ready to explain the issue, why the city should support your efforts, and what she can do to help.
Q. Who do I approach at the state level?
A. State legislators tend to be less available than local elected officials and also have more constituents to respond to, but remember that they still work for you. The first person you should reach out to at the state level is your representative. This person has a direct interest in listening to and meeting with constituents, so you'll have the most luck getting a meeting with this person. You can also consider reaching out to the Chairperson of the Agriculture Committees in the state legislature, since they will likely have an interest in issues related to seed regulation and sharing.
Q. Is it better to write, call, or e-mail, or visit my state representative?
A. When you first contact your legislator, it's probably best to call and send an e-mail. You can call your state legislator's office and ask to speak with her/him, but you will probably not get through directly. Instead, the staffer will ask you what issue you are calling about and will direct your call to the appropriate staffer who works on that issue. In this case, you will likely be directed to the staffer who works on agriculture issues. Tell them why you want to speak with your legislator, give them your contact information, and ask for their contact information. Then, follow up with an e-mail directed to your legislator and the staffer you spoke with to recap the phone call and request a meeting.
If you are contacting your legislator simply to support a specific bill, then you can simply call their office and say which bill you are requesting the legislator's support for, why you support it, and that you are a constituent located in their district.
Q. I'm not sure what to say when I meet with my representative?
A. Once you've scheduled a meeting with your local elected official or state legislator, make sure you prepare for the meeting. Here's a list of things to do before your meeting:
- Read through your state's seed law (use our Seed Law Tool Shed to start). Learn how the law might restrict seed sharing activities.
- Identify two or three key reasons why seed sharing is important to you, personally, and to your organization or coalition. Be ready to explain these reasons clearly.
- Ensure that any action you request from the representative is within their authority. For example, a city councilor cannot introduce a state law to exempt seed sharing from the state's seed law. Likewise, a state legislator cannot change the department of agriculture's enforcement practices. But, a city council can pass a local resolution, a state representative can introduce a bill, and the Director of the state department of agriculture may have enforcement discretion.
- Bring written materials that you can leave with the representative or her staff.
Q. What if I don't know the answer to a question?
A. That's OK. You don't need to be an expert in order to be an effective advocate. It's always good to acknowledge if you don't know that answer to a question instead of making up an answer on the spot and not being accurate. You can offer to find out the answer and get back to the representative or staff person who asked you the question. This raises another important point. It's very helpful to have a coalition of interested people to work with, because different people bring different skills, knowledge, expertise, and experience with them. When you're working in a coalition, even if you don't know the answer to a particular question it's likely that someone else in the coalition does! Just be sure to confer with everyone else attending the meeting beforehand about who will cover what issues. You want to be on the same page going into the meeting.
Q. What do I do after the meeting?
A. Follow up! In addition to sending a thank you note for meeting with you and your partners, follow up on the substance of the meeting and any next steps that were identified. Stay in regular, but not overly invasive, contact with the staff person assigned to your issue and ask if there are any ways that you can help going forward.
Q. Are there other government agencies that I should speak to?
A. Yes, there might be. In most states, the state department of agriculture regulates seeds and will have a seed program manager. You should be able to find out who this person is by visiting your state's department of agriculture website and searching for the seed program. Of course, you can also call the state department of agriculture and ask for the contact information for the person in charge of the seed program. Once you have their contact information, you can send them an email or give them a phone call to share your comments and thoughts about why seed sharing should not be regulated the same as seed sales. Keep in mind that this person will likely be aware of the issue already, so you probably do not have to provide too much background. Instead, spend your time explaining why regulating seed libraries and seed sharing will cause harm to you or your community and be sure to explain that the benefits of seed sharing outweigh any perceived risks. Like with all phone calls and emails to government officials, try to be brief, specific, and polite.
Legal and Other Resources
- The Seed Law Tool Shed - the Sustainable Economies Law Center, along with various members of the public, have compiled excerpts of seed laws fromseveral states into a collaborative online document library to grow our collective understanding of state seed laws in theUnited States. This document library is an educational resource only, does not constitute legal advice, and is definitely a work in progress! While we make all efforts to ensure the accuracy of the information in this library, we cannot guarantee that since anyone has access to edit the documents at any time.
- Protecting seed libraries in Nebraska - An Overview
- Duluth City Council Resolution Supporting Seed Sharing (MN)
- Oakland City Council Resolution Supporting Seed Sharing (CA)
- Seed laws that criminalize farmers: Resistance and Fightback (GRAIN and La Via Campesina) (PDF)
- Proceedings of the 2014 Summit on Seeds & Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture (RAFI-USA)
- Joint Resolution in Support of Seed Libraries (2015 International Seed Library Forum)
- A Legal Guide to Opening a Seed Library (to be released in 2015!)
- PBS, Food Forward, "Seeds of Change" (Overview of the importance of seed diversity, seed saving and seed libraries)
- Open Solutions for Seeds, "The Right to Save Seed" (Great cartoon explaining legal barriers to saving and sharing seed in Europe)
- NBC, Nightly News, "Stories of Progress" (Story about Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library)
- Rebecca Newburn, "Seed Library Primer" (An overview of what seed libraries are, why they are important to local food systems, and what the regulatory response has been to seed libraries so far)
- The Greenhorns, Our Land, "Adaptive Seeds" (Short webisode featuring a small seed farm and company in Oregon)
- Seeds of Time (Documentary film about efforts to preserve seed genetic diversity from climate change through a seed vault in the frozen mountains of Norway)
- Seeding Fear (Short film describing one Alabama farmer's experience being sued by Monsanto for intellectual property law violations for saving seeds)
- Growing Your Greens, Interview with Neil Thapar (Video blogger, John Kohler, interviews SELC Staff Attorney, Neil Thapar, about the Save Seed Sharing campaign and how seed laws affect seed sharing in the US)
- WBUR, On Point, "A Library For Your Seeds" (Radio program with guests Belle Starr (Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance), Ken Greene (Hudson Valley Seed Library), Dan Barber (Chef and Author), and Johnny Zook (PA Dept. of Agriculture))
- KVNF, Local Motion, "Seed Libraries, Seed Saving" (Radio program with guests Sarah Pope (North Fork Valley Seed Library), Mark Waltermire (Thistlewhistle Farms), and Neil Thapar (Sustainable Economies Law Center))
- Shareable (Click here to see Shareable's full campaign coverage)
- Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) and Shareable Kickoff Campaign to Save Seed Sharing in the U.S.
- Setting the Record Straight on the Legality of Seed Libraries
- US Seed Libraries Mobilize to Protect their Right to Share
- Pennsylvania Seed Library Investigated by Department of Agriculture
- How to Start a Seed Sharing Campaign in Your Town
- Wall Street Journal
- Library Journal
- Minnesota Public Radio
- Yahoo News
- American Libraries Magazine
Seeds are at the foundation of human and animal existence on this planet. Since the dawn of agriculture, over 10,000 years ago, human have domesticated, bred, and selected plant varieties that provide us with nourishment. Indeed, saving and sharing seeds is one of the few unbroken traditions we share with our ancestors.
In the last century, however, the tradition of sharing seeds has been largely replaced as the dominant form of exchange by the buying and selling of seeds in the marketplace. As a result, in 2016, three companies control more than 50% of the commercial seed market. The consolidation of the seed industry has also led to a sharp loss in seed diversity around the globe. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that we have lost 75% of the world’s plant genetic biodiversity in the last century and that currently, nearly 75% of our food comes from just twelve plant varieties and five animal species. Studies show that seed genetic diversity is a key element of ensuring that our agricultural systems are resilient in the face of a number of social, political, and environmental threats.
In recent years, communities across the country have found a new home for continuing the age old tradition of seed saving and sharing - seed libraries and exchanges. Over 450 seed libraries, and countless more seed exchanges, exist in the United States, with many more in countries around the world. Seed libraries and exchanges offer people free access to seeds and promote genetic diversity and local adaptation to increase the resilience of the local food system.
So when we heard that seed libraries and exchanges were threatened with shut downs by state regulators back in June, 2014, we decided to do something about it. We researched these seed laws being applied by state departments of agriculture and found that, in some cases, these laws are being misapplied, and in other cases, that seed laws need to be changed to protect seed libraries' rights to share locally grown and saved seed. We launched the Save Seed Sharing campaign to promote people's rights to save and share seeds and to protect our seed commons.
September 9, 2016 - California Governor signs into law CA Seed Exchange Democracy Act, exempting noncommercial seed sharing from testing and labeling requirements in the state seed law.
August 16, 2016 - Illinois passes amendment to state seed law to exempt seed libraries from state seed law requirements.
July 17, 2016 - At the 35th annual Seed Savers Exchange Conference & Campout, the steering committee of the International Seed Library Association reach an agreement with Seed Savers Exchange and USC-Canada to create the Community Seed Network as a joint project to support the national seed library community.
July 14, 2016 - AASCO votes to adopt an amendment, initially introduced by the Law Center and negotiated with several stakeholders, to the Recommended Uniform State Seed Law that creates exemption from testing, permitting, and most labeling requirements, creating replicable language that state legislatures can draw from when updating state seed laws. Read the text of the amendment here.
July 15, 2015 - The Law Center staff attend national gathering of American Association of State Seed Control Officials (AASCO) to advocate for changes to model legislation that creates exemption from testing, permitting, and labeling requirements for noncommercial seed sharing initiatives. The amendment is not accepted, but a working group is created to develop amended language including representatives from AASCO, SELC, seed libraries, and seed companies.
May 27, 2015 - Nebraska Governor signs into law legislation that exempts seed libraries from state seed law.
May 19, 2015 - Minnesota becomes the first state to pass a law amending the state seed law to exempt noncommercial seed sharing from testing, labeling, and permitting requirements, based on language developed by Sustainable Economies Law Center.
May 3-6, 2015 - First-ever International Seed Library Forum is held in Tucson, Arizona, hosted by the Pima County Public Library to bring together over 100 seed advocates to discuss the state of the seed library movement, state seed laws, and develop strategies for growing the national and international network of community-based seed sharing. The participants unanimously adopt a Joint Resolution in Support of Seed Libraries. The Law Center begins advising steering committee on creation of a backbone organization to support seed libraries, tentatively called the International Seed Library Association.
November 11, 2014 - With support from the Clif Bar Family Foundation, the Law Center launches the Save Seed Sharing campaign with national online petition to spread awareness and build support for legal protections for seed libraries and other community-based seed sharing initiatives. The petition eventually receives over 20,000 signatures.
August 11, 2014 - The Law Center co-publishes article with Shareable and Center for a New American Dream outlining the need to change state seed laws to protect community-based seed sharing activities. The Law Center also launches the Seed Law Tool Shed, a publicly accessible, crowdsourced database of state seed laws and analysis.
June 12, 2014 - Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture sends letter to Simpson Library in Mechanicsburg, informing the library staff that their plans to open a seed library violate the state seed law.