Monday kickoff: seeding a revolution

Photo from Eating in Public

These days, passing around seeds has become a thing of activism.  In the wake of debates like the one between Monsanto and a 75 year-old Indiana farmer before the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month, it's clear that seeds are a) controversial, b) valuable, and c) a battle front for the future of agriculture.

In that Supreme Court debate over whether seeds can be copyrighted, the New York Times reported it wasn't even a fair fight and the judges appeared to weigh in on the side of Monsanto (yes, seeds can be copyrighted) even though the judges has yet to issue an opinion:

A lawyer for Monsanto, Seth P. Waxman, a former United States solicitor general, was allowed to talk uninterrupted for long stretches, which is usually a sign of impending victory.

“Without the ability to limit reproduction of soybeans containing this patented trait,” he said, “Monsanto could not have commercialized its invention and never would have produced what is, by now, the most popular agricultural technology in America.”

In response to this Big Ag seed fight, a movement of seed liberation is growing.  Take the Hudson Valley Seed Library, which claims to do nothing short of this:

We…[research] the origins of all of the seeds we don’t grow ourselves to make sure that those sources are not related to, owned by, or affiliated with biotech or pharmaceutical corporations. We do the research so you can feel good about your seeds. At the same time as more and more seed sources are gobbled up by these multi-national corporations, we’re busy collecting, preserving, growing, offering, and celebrating seeds in all their diversity.

Each Monday morning here on The Dirt, we feature a new idea, person or group doing something worth mentioning.  Today, a group based in Hawaii who's digging into the seed rights fight in an old school way.  Eating in Public sets up stations – little desks, really – for people to take or leave packages of seeds:

It’s a simple idea, really. Libraries, community centers, coffee shops, galleries, or anywhere where people pass through agree to host stations. Eating in Public will provide them for free (or they have for building your own). The stations come with some pencils, a stapler, recycled envelopes, and a rubber stamp and pad so seed-sharers can label their offerings, as well as 50 packs of seeds to get people started. Anybody who feels like it can grab seeds or leave some behind.

Two things strike me about this.  First, it shocks me a little that seeds have become the stuff of court fights and revolution.  But second, of course it shouldn't shock me.  Seeds are the foundation of nutrition, the beginning of all things vegetables.  This is a battle for the future of food, right? And there's a lot of power in those little seeds.

UPDATE: More seed news during the 8 O'Clock Hour Tuesday morning, and online Lucy Martin talks with a couple at Ottawa's 20th annual "Seedy Saturday" about how seed swaps let gardeners share and explore.


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  1. Dave,
    It shouldn't shock you that seeds are the center of some revolution. Look into the history of rubber, coffee, tea and other high value crops. Areas that had them originally protected their excusivity by preventing the export of seeds and or plants. Some countries prevented the importation of livestock with caracteristics superior to those raised by their farmers fearing "unfair competition".
    You don't have to be Monsanto to control genetic material, check out Honey Crisp apples.
    It's age old.
    There are several seed companies catering to those wishing to shun GMOs and cardboard tomatoes. There is business for all as long as there are diffences of opinion and tastes.

  2. It's all about control so we need more seed sharing libraries but they'll probably have to go underground in the future. Just think people that garden and farm will be the new revolutionaries of the future subject to big business ,oops I mean govt, laws for our own good.