Did you know that if you convince your local library to develop a seed library, you could be accused of agroterrorism? Me neither, but apparently that’s what happened to the Joseph T. Simpson Public Library in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. The library passed out open-pollinated seeds to local gardeners, who could plant them and harvest both crop and seeds, as long as they returned a donation of seeds to the library. Seems the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture got wind of the situation and told the library that it could continue the program only if they kept extensive records (in quadruplicate, no doubt) and tested the seeds brought back to the library to be sure that they really were Waltham Butternut Squash or Mortgage Lifter Tomatoes. Seems the library was in violation of a state seed act meant to ensure the purity of seeds grown by big companies, and had to jump through these hoops to prevent nefarious folks from returning a packet of some nasty, invasive plant for distribution to the next unwitting gardener. Big Brother in the seed business is nothing new, but that’s the first I’ve heard of Big Brother in the library business.
What’s really stupid about this — aside from the officiousness of some government bureaucrats — is that a disseminated population of gardeners growing open-pollinated seeds is one of the best defenses against agroterrorism the U.S. could have. Think about it. Right now, our food comes from a few places. In 2006 (my source document is a little old, but I’m betting things haven’t changed much), 75 percent of U.S. food came from 6.7 percent of the 2.1 million farms in the U.S. Iowa, North Carolina and Minnesota produced 53 percent of the pork Americans ate. Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama produced 41 percent of the meat chickens. Any half-smart terrorist isn’t going to bother with some dinky little library seed collection –he’s going to go after the big targets where he can cause a lot of destruction in a very short period of time. While the Pennsylvania DofA might see it as a victory, in my opinion, all they did was look stupid. The library still has a seed bank and lending program, but they don’t accept returned seeds. They’re going to organize an informal seed swap instead. I say more power to ‘em!