End Irrational Crackdown on Seed Libraries

seed library

Target: Tom Vilsack, United States Secretary of Agriculture

Goal: Federally protect the right of small, independent seed libraries to continue operations in the face of some states’ irrational crackdown on their programs

When you imagine a “terrorist,” do you picture a volunteer at a small-town library dutifully cataloging heirloom seeds? Seed libraries have sprung up across the United States, offering farmers and gardeners alike the opportunity to grow crops and then replace the seeds after harvest. Such programs have helped communities strengthen their self-sufficiency in an age of rampant poverty and increasingly industrialized agriculture. But despite the obvious contradiction, a budding seed library in Pennsylvania was recently forced to shut down over concerns of so-called “agri-terrorism.”

Officials fret that agri-terrorists might intentionally mislabel seeds, perhaps hoping to introduce damaging invasive species and noxious weeds. Companies with a big stake in proprietary seed sales are likely putting pressure on states to get rid of this communal competition. Many seed exchanges are based out of existing libraries, bringing new life to these invaluable institutions. People don’t need to pay in order to “borrow” seed for the season, and as such programs spread they begin to pose a real threat to the profits of major seed companies like Monsanto.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture told the seed library in Mechanicsburg it was in violation of the state’s Seed Act of 2004 and would therefore need to suspend operations, according to Common Dreams. The law in question specifically regulates seeds that are sold, yet was used as justification to end the distribution of seed to library patrons. Representatives with the department said they would continue to “crack down” on similar programs elsewhere in Pennsylvania.

These programs should be encouraged for the resiliency they provide, not targeted as a form of agricultural terrorism. Call on federal officials to issue guidelines protecting the right of seed libraries to operate independently, within existing libraries and beyond, and without charging a fee for participation.


Dear Secretary Vilsack,

Towns across America are offering community members the chance to participate in seed libraries as a way to minimize costs while preserving heirloom seed varieties. In California, Colorado, Wisconsin and elsewhere patrons can borrow seed, replacing it after harvest at the end of the season. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania residents recently welcomed a seed library only to see the state’s Department of Agriculture order it shut down amid unsubstantiated fears of agri-terrorism.

A seed library in Duluth, Minnesota includes the following statement in its values: “Public libraries play a vital role in communities as a repository for a diversity of ideas and shared knowledge for the public good. Similarly, seed is a public resource and shared legacy–it must be managed in a manner that benefits the public good.”

The time has come for the United States Department of Agriculture to step in. I ask you to ensure that places like Mechanicsburg can strengthen their local food systems with these programs without being targeted by proprietary seed companies and baseless fears of agri-terrorism. Please, protect the right of communities to operate seed libraries as a free service to the public, both within existing libraries and beyond.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Kathryn Brown via Wikimedia Commons

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One Comment

  1. Tim Cliffe says:

    I think the Pennsylvania Dept. of Agriculture has gone off the rails here (and I’m guessing they’ll backtrack before long).

    But the Federal Dept. of Agriculture can’t step in and force Pennsylvania to change its practices, unless those practices are illegal under Federal law. If you really think Secretary Vilsack can force PA to change what it does, you ought to cite the Federal law that PA has broken.

    If the petition asked Secretary Vilsack to express disapproval of PA’s actions, I suppose it might have some limited use. But as it is, this petition just shows a basic misunderstanding of the Federal/State relationship.

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