A public library in small Pennsylvania town offered a new public resource for its patrons: a seed library. That is, until the state Department of Agriculture pulled the rug out from under the plan.
Launched on April 26, the seed library at Mechanicsburg’s Joseph T. Simpson Public Library would have held all heirloom, and preferable organic, seed. Its first seed trove, with help from the Cumberland County Commission for Women, came from Seed Savers Exchange, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving heirloom seeds.
Library patrons could “check out” the seeds to plant, and, if all went well, at the end of the plant’s growing season, they’d save its seeds and return them to the library to replenish the stock. If the crop failed or the borrowers were just unable to save seeds, they were allowed to bring back store-bought heirloom seeds instead.
In the process of this seed library circulation, patrons would be bringing a new use to the library space, exchanging seeds with their community members and practicing the art of saving seeds — something farmers have done for years but which stands at odds with proprietary seeds.
“People have been really excited to have this opportunity to borrow seeds,” Adult Services Director Rebecca Swanger told local news ABC27 in May. “That way they don’t have to purchase a whole packet of seeds and end up not using a lot of them.”
According to reporting by the Carlisle Sentinel on July 31, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture sent a letter to the library stating that the seed library violated the state’s Seed Act of 2004.
While the Act focuses on seeds that are sold, Cumberland County Library System Executive Director Jonelle Darr told The Sentinel that there could also be a problem with seeds being mislabeled and potentially invasive, and noted that the Department indicated it would “crack down” at other seed libraries within the state.