Saving seeds for planting the next season, and sharing them with others, is an ancient tradition that probably stretches back to before the advent of agriculture. It is a custom still practiced by many gardeners and small farmers, but increasingly threatened by big business practices of big chemical companies such as Monsanto.
An heirloom plant, heirloom variety, heritage fruit (Australia and New Zealand), or (especially in Ireland and the UK) heirloom vegetable is an old cultivar that is maintained by gardeners and farmers, particularly in isolated or ethnic minority communities in western countries.These may have been commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but are not used in modern large-scale agriculture.In some parts of the world, notably the European Union, it is illegal to sell seeds of cultivars that are not listed as approved for sale.The Henry Doubleday Research Association, now known as Garden Organic, responded to this legislation by setting up the Heritage Seed Library to preserve seeds of as many of the older cultivars as possible. However, seed banks alone have not been able to provide sufficient insurance against catastrophic loss. In some jurisdictions, laws have been proposed that would make seed saving itself illegal.
Many heirloom vegetables have kept their traits through open pollination, while fruit varieties such as apples have been propagated over the centuries through grafts and cuttings. wiki link
However, trading seeds among friends is one thing; setting up a more formal, publicly available structure is a little more fraught and can have some unpleasant legal obstacles. In most states in this country there are seed libraries, some of them located in public libraries, that have become the community space where people can share seeds, both donating and receiving seeds from local gardeners.
An article in Natural Awakenings magazine in May 2017 says the “the U.S. Department of Agriculture Federal Seed Act, in place for 80 years, mandates that any activity involving non-commercial distribution of seeds must be labeled, permitted and tested according to industrial regulations that would be both costly and burdensome to the hundreds of local seed libraries operating in 46 states.”
Fortunately, four states–California, Nebraska, Illinois, and Minnesota–have passed legislation “protecting non-commercial seed activity from regulatory requirements.” This is wonderful because as people continue to share seeds in many different venues, including seed libraries, they can save heirloom and open-pollinated varieties, increase local food production in backyards and community gardens, and help communities to have fresh, toxin-free food that is nutrient-dense and healthy.
The Sustainable Economies Law Center is working to get legislation passed in all 50 states that would protect our right to share seeds freely and easily.
Here is a link to one of the biggest seed saving organizations, that has been around since 1975. It is well worth checking out.
Have you done any seed-sharing, with friends or with a seed library? Let me know your experiences!