Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Saving and Sharing: Public Library Seed Exchanges

Over the past few years there's been an explosion of seed exchanges springing up across the country and throughout Wisconsin. In a nutshell, a seed exchange distributes seeds with the expectation that seeds will be harvested from the crop and given back to the exchange. Purposes of a seed exchange include promoting local gardening, connecting people with their food systems, and preserving / promoting heirloom and locally-sourced seeds.

In many ways seed exchanges are a natural fit for a public library setting. The Richmond [CA] Public Library was an early advocate and their website contains a great deal of useful information for libraries interested in starting a seed exchange. In 2013 LaCrosse became the first public library in our state to create a seed exchange and they continue to be a source of inspiration and encouragement to other libraries.
Image of two hands sharing a seed
Image of two hands sharing a seed
(courtesy of artist John Wright)

There's a wealth of great online resources and support for libraries who may be interested in starting a seed exchange library.  The Seed Library Social Network site includes several helpful videos detailing the process of how to save seeds. Seed Libraries Daily  is a great source for the latest news on seed exchanges. The Seed Librarians Association site allows you to sign up to receive their "Cool Beans" newsletter. And the Seed Savers Alliance site models a great seed exchange partnership among public libraries in Ashland, Bayfield, Iron, and Sawyer counties, the UW-Extension, and the Alliance for Sustainability.

With the growth of seed exchanges in public libraries, there's been several instances where state departments of agriculture have "cracked down" on seed exchanges - forcing public libraries to abide by the same testing and labeling requirements that commercial seed companies follow. Fortunately that's not been the case in Wisconsin. In order to promote seed safety, Wisconsin's Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection (DATCP) requires public libraries with seed exchanges to apply for a seed labeler license and to pay an annual $25 fee but they also understand the positive role that seed exchanges play within a community. Details and a link to the application form can be found at the DATCP website.

Recently the DATCP received permission from Governor Scott Walker to begin the process of modifying current seed labeling rules "in order to address the non-commercial public and private exchange of small quantities of agricultural seed." These modified seed labeling rules should be available sometime this summer. For more information on the proposed rule modification, see the Wisconsin State Legislature's site.

During this most recent cycle of the Wisconsin Public Library Annual Report, our Public Library Development Team was asked if libraries could include seed exchange circulation in Total Circulation on the Annual Report. The guidelines / definitions that we adopt (in cooperation with the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services) do not include seed exchange activity relating to the Annual Report. However,we certainly encourage public libraries with seed exchanges to keep accurate use statistics. These statistics will be helpful at the local level when demonstrating the value of this service within the community.

Written by:
Denise Anton Wright, Public Library Development