A good piece in Grist about a local seed-sharing program that attracted the attention of the state ag department. Interesting occurrence, unfortunate circumstances and results.
It started this way. A local group called the Cumberland County Commission for Women had heard of a new thing that local libraries were doing — creating lending libraries for seeds. Someone found an old card catalog and turned it into seed packet storage. Someone else got advice from the local Penn State Ag Extension office. With the help of the librarians at Joseph T. Simpson, they launched the project in April, on Earth Day.
Then, in June, the library received a letter from Johnny Zook, seed program supervisor at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. The missive informed the library that it was in violation of the Seed Act of 2004. You can read the correspondence because the Simpson Seed Library, like the good librarians they are, posted it on their website.
It would be easy to brand this as “Big Evil Government,” mutter “Damn the Man!” and go on about your day.
But reading this, I got the impression that what happened here was much more a case of well-intentioned people on both sides of an issue, who merely lacked the appropriate mechanisms and frameworks to interact in a mutually productive way… namely a state agency that feels as though they have a clear mandate and that they are locked into a procedure that must be followed.
However, the danger of such policies being recognized and co-opted as legal leverage against local/community sustainable agriculture practices is potentially a concern, as is the chilling effect that occurrences like this one may create.
To me, the issue and the answer is clear. If the systems and processes in place don’t allow for communities and individuals to do something as simple and necessary as share the means to grow food in their own gardens, then the system and processes need to be revised.
Simple as that.