Seed Library Advocacy 101

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.


Hudson_Valley_Seed_Library_display.jpgQ. 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.

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