Future of libraries: Sowing the seeds of agri-terrorism?
Special to the Sun
This is the third in a series of articles exploring the varied ways that public libraries are continuing to reinvent their services and facilities in order to respond to technological innovation and the specific needs and populations of the communities they serve.
Click here to read part one of the series.
Click here to read part two of the series.
TRUCKEE, Calif. — One of the primary roles of public libraries is to respond to the specific resource needs of their communities.
Sometimes those needs result in unexpected services, such as in Alameda and Richmond, Calif., Basalt, Colo., and LaCrosse, Wisc., where seed-lending libraries have emerged to serve their residents.
At seed libraries, patrons “check out” seeds, with the understanding that, at the end of the growing season, they will save seeds from their crop — as farmers have done for years — to replenish the library’s collection.
If the crop doesn’t make it, the grower can bring in store-bought seeds to replace what they had “borrowed.”
“A common attribute of many seed libraries is to preserve agricultural biodiversity by focusing on rare, local, and heirloom seed varieties,” notes Wikipedia.
Many seed-lending libraries offer classes on organic gardening and seed-saving, and, of course, all have books and periodicals with comprehensive information on gardening.
Some, such as Richmond’s “Richmond Grows,” ask that patrons watch an online orientation before borrowing seeds.
With the current debate over genetically modified foods and growing interest in organically grown food, seed libraries sound like an asset for communities such as Mechanicsburg, Pa., where a seed library opened last spring.
Local officials, however, did not share the community’s excitement. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture threatened to shut down the seed library, stating that the library’s seed-lending practices violated the state’s Seed Act of 2004.
Although the Act addresses seeds that are sold rather than loaned or freely exchanged, the Department believed there could be a problem if seeds were mislabeled or turned out to be invasive plants.
According to Cumberland County commissioner Barbara Cross, such seed libraries on a large scale could very well pose a danger.
“Agri-terrorism is a very, very real scenario,” she said. “Protecting and maintaining the food sources of America is an overwhelming challenge. ”
After much discussion, Mechanicsburg Library staff and the PDA reached a compromise: The seed library could continue to offer labeled seeds for the appropriate season, but could not lend unlabeled or older seeds unless they were tested by a lab sanctioned by the PDA.
As libraries continue to explore new ways to offer free information and resources, there will undoubtedly be more challenges ahead for pushing the boundaries of the beloved public institution.
Pam McAdoo is a board member of the Friends of the Truckee Library. Visit truckeefol.org to learn more.
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