In 2020, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer made headlines by issuing an executive order that essentially prohibited people from buying seeds. She ordered stores larger than 50,000 square feet to cordon off garden centers and plant nurseries, justifying her decision by stating that people should only be going to stores for essential items like food and medicine. This move left home gardeners frustrated and confused.
Years later, even Governor Whitmer admitted that some of her decisions, including restrictions on gardening supplies, may not have made much sense. However, this extreme example is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to threats facing home gardens and seed sharing.
What many people may not realize is that seed sharing is illegal in numerous U.S. states, including Pennsylvania, Maryland, Minnesota, and Nebraska. Even in states where it's not explicitly illegal, individuals may be required to obtain permits to share seeds. Moreover, over two dozen state legislatures have passed "seed-preemption laws" designed to block counties and cities from creating their own rules regarding seed usage, including bans on GMOs.
These regulations have been in place for years, and recent developments indicate that new regulations are still being introduced. For instance, California recently passed a law that exempts non-commercial seed activities from regulations, but it remains one of the few states offering such an exemption.
Seed libraries, which typically consist of seeds saved and shared by community members, have faced significant challenges. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken steps to shut down these common seed libraries. One notable case involved the Simpson Seed Library in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, in 2014. State regulators closed the community seed library, permitting only the use of commercially sold seeds and requiring members to destroy seeds at the end of each growing season.
In 2015, Minnesota passed a seed law that prohibited gardeners from sharing or giving away seeds without obtaining an annual permit, conducting seed testing, and attaching detailed labels. Violating this law could result in a substantial fine of $7,500.
While seed laws were initially designed to protect farmers from unscrupulous seed dealers, some argue that these laws are being applied without reason. Some proponents believe that the real reasons behind these authoritarian seed laws are tied to the interests of big agriculture.
The Association of American Seed Control Officials, a special interest group, has developed a Recommended Uniform State Seed Law. The word "control" in the group's name raises concerns about its true intentions.
Critics argue that big seed companies see seed libraries and seed sharing as potential threats and lobby to overregulate these practices. While more gardeners learn about growing their own food and locally sourced seeds, the benefits of seed sharing could outweigh the glossy images in seed catalogs.
The war on seed sharing and home gardening is a complex issue with deep-seated interests involved. While some regulations may have been established with good intentions, they harbor serious flaws.
Seed sharing and home gardening have played a crucial role in food security for generations. Ensuring individuals have the right to save and share seeds is vital, particularly in uncertain times. Imagine another situation like Governor Whitmer's pandemic restrictions, where access to seeds is limited—our food security could become even more precarious. It's essential to protect the right to grow and share seeds for the sake of our food security and self-reliance.