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.
Check out our new FAQ for the Neighborhood Food Act
Today, the Neighborhood Food Act is officially in effect. So what does that mean for you? Find out by reading through our Neighborhood Food Act FAQ.
In the FAQ, you'll find answers to questions including:
- Why do we need this law?
- What does the law really do?
- Who does the law apply to?
- Can I sell food that I grow at home?
- And more!
Click the link above to download a PDF copy of the FAQ, and visit our Food Resources page to find the FAQ and plenty of other food law and policy related educational resources.
Duluth Library's Seed Sharing Program Hits A Hurdle
By: Dan Kraker, Minnesota Public Radio
(Originally published November 30, 2014)
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has given a thumbs down to a Duluth seed-sharing program that allows members to borrow vegetable seeds from the library in the spring and later return seeds they collect from their gardens.
State agriculture regulators say the exchange — one of about 300 in the United States — violates the state's seed law because it does not test seeds.
Gov. Brown Signs Neighborhood Food Act
September 26, 2014
Today Governor Jerry Brown signed SELC's Neighborhood Food Act, AB 2561, and several other bills seeking to promote local and sustainable food systems in California.
AB 2561 guarantees tenants’ and members of homeowner’s associations’ rights to grow food for personal consumption by voiding contrary language in lease agreements or homeowner’s association agreements.Read more
Governor Brown Signs the Neighborhood Food Act!
UPDATE: Click here to read our FAQ on the Neighborhood Food Act
September 26, 2014
Today Governor Jerry Brown signed Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC)'s Neighborhood Food Act, AB 2561, and several other bills seeking to promote local and sustainable food systems in California.
AB 2561 guarantees tenants’ and members of homeowner’s associations’ rights to grow food for personal consumption by voiding contrary language in lease agreements or homeowner’s association agreements.
AB 2561 preempts landlords from restricting tenants who live in single-family or duplex residences from growing food for themselves in portable containers in their backyards. The bill allows landlords to determine the location of containers, restrict the use of synthetic chemicals, and enter into separate agreements with tenants regarding excess water use or waste collection. Common interest developments are also preempted from restricting members from growing food for personal consumption or donation.
Some 25 organizations supported the bill, including Sustainable Economies Law Center (sponsor), Slow Food California, Social Justice Learning Institute, and Ubuntu Green. Neil Thapar, Staff Attorney at the Sustainable Economies Law Center, said, “As Californians continue to face significant economic and environmental uncertainty, the Neighborhood Food Act is a great step forward towards equitable access to healthy food, developing resilient food systems, and strengthening local economies. People have the right to grow their own food, and this law clarifies that right.”
The bill as originally drafted by SELC, and as introduced in the State Legislature by Assemblymember Steven Bradford, also contained provisions that would overturn local zoning ordinances that prohibit growing food in front yards, back yards and vacant lots in residential neighborhoods and other city zones. This section of the bill was removed in the Assembly Local Government Committee due to opposition from the local government lobby. SELC hopes for future state legislation that addresses the widespread conflicts between city zoning codes and the urban agriculture movement in order to increase access to fresh, healthy and local food for many more Californians.
While there is much work ahead to remove legal barriers to small-scale, sustainable and local agriculture in California, we are pleased with the increasing interest among the State Legislature in addressing these critical issues. Today we are extremely grateful to the many farmers, gardeners, legislators and their staff, nonprofit organizations and community organizers who supported the Neighborhood Food Act.
Neil Thapar, Staff Attorney
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (510) 398-6219
2323 Broadway, #203 Oakland, CA 94612
U.S. Seed Libraries Mobilize to Protect Their Right to Share
By: Cat Johnson
September 8, 2014
In June, officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture alerted the Joseph T. Simpson Public Library in Mechanicsburg that their seed library was in violation of the Pennsylvania Seed Act of 2004. According to officials, the library would have to follow the prohibitively expensive procedures of large-scale commercial seed companies or only offer commercial seed. The first option is impractical and the second option would gut the exchange of its primary purpose to serve home gardeners who want to save and exchange their own seed.
The Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) reported in a recent article on Shareable.net that the Pennsylvania law may only apply to commercial seed operations. Despite what may be an incorrect interpretation of the law, other states are now considering adopting Pennsylvania's seed library protocol. This could kill a fast growing U.S. seed library movement.Read more
Gardeners on Alert as PA Targets Risks of Seed Libraries
By: Kris Maher
A crackdown by Pennsylvania regulators on a seed exchange at a small library has put gardeners and advocates of locally grown organic food on alert across the country.
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.Read more
Building Resilient Communities: Summer 2014 Newsletter
What is a food lawyer?
Do you know a food lawyer? Ever heard the term before? How would you define it?
If you're not sure, don't worry you're not alone. Food law is a relatively new, and rapidly growing, area of law that includes a wide range of activities. Mary Beth Albright over at National Geographic's The Plate recently shared her definition in an article that features some great photos of SELC Executive Director, Janelle Orsi, and clients from our Resilient Communities Legal Cafe.Read more
Setting the Record Straight on the Legality of Seed Libraries
After the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture cracked down on a seed bank in the Joseph T. Simpson Public Library in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, hundreds of seed libraries in the U.S. are suddenly wondering if they are breaking the law.
There are seed laws in every state that regulate the sale and transport of seeds within state lines. Tt the federal level, seed laws govern interstate commerce in seeds. These laws exist to restrict the introduction of invasive species, protect consumers from unscrupulous businesses, and ensure fair competition in the seed industry. But should they apply to non-commercial, non-profit, community-based seed libraries? We don't think so, and we think that seed libraries have the laws on their side.
SELC, along with our friends at Shareable and the Center for a New American Dream, published this article laying down the legal argument why seed libraries shouldn't be subjected to seed laws intended to regulate the commercial seed industry.