In July, there was a story going round about how the Seed Library at the Joseph T. Simpson Public Library in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania was being shut down for fears of “agri-terrorism.” Indeed, according to one story, this was being done by the USDA and “Cumberland County Library System Executive Director Jonelle Darr was told that the USDA would, ‘continue to crack down on seed libraries that have established themselves in the state.’”
I saw the articles and noted them for a future piece on here. Then I waited a bit while things settled down. And there isn’t much tempest to this particular teapot.
First, the good citizens of Mechanicsburg, Pa. will continue to be able to swap seeds through their public library. What this is all about is the Pennsylvania Seed Act (the USDA has nothing to do with this controversy), which is like Seed Acts in many states in that it requires those who sell seed, and selling is defined broadly so as to avoid anyone getting around the act to include, among other things, barter, to have that seeded tested first. This puts a true seed library, one that allows you to check out seed and then return seed from your harvest at the end of the growing season, on the edges of legality under that statute. But the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture made it clear that non-commercial seed swaps were perfectly okay and the library could host them.
Second, the person who used the term “agri-terrorism” was a Cumberland County Commissioner. While she is, in fact, a former Marine with a background in intelligence and lives on a farm, determining the nation’s response to agri-terrorism is not really in her bailiwick.
So basically, this was a nothingburger from start to finish. The very first letter from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture ended like this: “I’m sure a creative, innovative way can be found to continue to promote healthy gardening while maintaining seed quality and meeting the requirements of the PA Seed Act.” This is just the tone you’d want a bureacrat who is reluctantly applying a law to a situation where its very application is counterintuitive to take. But a bunch of bloggers took the “agri-terrorism” comment and made it sound like the government (indeed, the federal government) was coming down like a ton of bricks on some poor gardeners. That was simply never the case. They came up with their solution and by all accounts they’re happy with it.
This gives me sympathy for those who were caught up proclaiming USC cornerback Josh Shaw a hero last Monday only to have egg on their faces Wednesday when his purported heroism was admitted to be a hoax. I’ll take my long leadtime over a rushed deadline anytime.