Back in August I wrote about some legal troubles with two seed libraries here-- which were shown to be in violation of state seed laws. Since this time, two more state agriculture departments have moved to shut down seed libraries, claiming the same reason. At present, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Maryland, and Minnesota have all taken some action against libraries.
Seed laws were first created to protect farmers from buying bad seed- including seed with poor germination rates or mixed with unwanted weeds. Yet most seed that is traded in seed libraries or exchanges is produced in small quantities, and harvested and cleaned by hand- which would largely prevent weed seed from being introduced. And in my vast experience with both the Olympia Seed Exchange and the King County Seed Lending Library, farmers don't use seed libraries- gardeners do.
I am not saying gardeners don't need to be protected from buying bad seed, what I am saying is bad seed can destroy a farmer's livelihood, so laws regulating the sale of seed are necessary. However, exchanging seed at a swap or library is not the same thing as a sale. Further, when you get seed from an informal exchange like a library or seed swap you are knowingly entering into an exchange that provides no guarantee as to quality. Do these agriculture departments really believe gardeners are applying the same expectations to a swap as they do when they purchase seed from a company?
Luckily for seed librarians, the tide might be turning before it breaks on the shore. In a recent announcement, Minnesota State Senator Roger Reinert said he would draft a bill to exempt seed libraries from the state seed law, reversing any actions the agriculture department of his state had taken.
If you are a seed librarian, I'd love to hear from you. Have you had any problems with this?