Beware the Agri-Terrorist

Seed lending libraries are sprouting up across the land. If your public library has one, you can “check out” specific seeds just as you would books, take them home and plant them. Your green thumb working? Great, just  collect seeds from your plants at harvest time, and replenish the Seed Library. If your garden didn’t grow as you’d hoped, however, you can either purchase replacement heirloom seeds for the library or perhaps acquire some from a neighbor who had much better luck with the same variety. Some seed libraries even host community “seed swaps” and other activities.

(Community seed libraries are entirely different from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault on Norway’s Spitsbergen Island, built and maintained as the ultimate, permanent collection of over 1.5 million distinct seeds on the planet. It’s primarily accessible by scientists and polar bears.)

Local communities with seed library programs include public libraries in Richmond (CA), Duluth (MN), Westcliffe (CO), New Port Richey (FL)–which has now expanded into a Community Garden project–and many others. Their number is inching up toward 350 nation-wide (DE, ND, SD, TN, UT and WY are not on the list, so if you know of a seed saving and lending program in any of those states, please use the comments to let us know.)

Among the 340 listed seed libraries are eleven in PA. One of them, hosted by the Joseph T. Simpson Library in Mechanicsburg, has come to the attention of (insert your favorite scary music here) the PA Department of Agriculture which has informed the Simpson Library that its seed activity is in violation of the PA Seed Act of 2004 (here and here). The PA Department of Agriculture is so alarmed by this activity that it sent “a high-ranking official and lawyers to a meeting with the library.”

Now, PA’s Seed Act of 2004 “focuses on the selling of seeds”, whereas the Simpson Library was making available space for seeds to be stored for patrons who wished to “borrow,” and later replace, some. However, there is official concern that the “seeds may be mislabeled (purposefully or accidentally),” resulting in “the growth of invasive plant species, cross-pollination and poisonous plants.” One member of the Cumberland County Commission, where Mechanicsburg is located, even brought up the specter of “Agri-terrorism” in her support of the Department of Agriculture’s action, while most of the other Commissioners reportedly wondered if busting a local seed lending library was best use of the state’s “time and money.” Especially one set up in consultation with the local Penn State Ag Extension office.

As for the PA Department of Agriculture, rooting out the flagrant activities of seed lending libraries has become a mission of such magnitude that they’ve apparently indicated they will “crack down on seed libraries” throughout the state.

And, thus, the Simpson Library of Mechanicsburg is left with one option: “to host ‘seed swap’ days where private individuals can meet and exchange seeds”—so long as the library itself isn’t involved in any such exchanges.

Under PA’s Department of Agriculture’s website current banner, “Keeping Pennsylvania Growing,” are a few pictures of their (usually smiling) Secretary of Agriculture, George Grieg, including his jolly appearance at an amusement park ride. One photo seems to underscore Secretary Grieg’s interest in seeds since it shows “Sec. Greig and Mrs. Greig [touring] the Ernst Conservation Seeds Company as the company celebrates 50 years of business. The company is located in Meadville, Crawford Co., where they grow, process and sells [sic] over 400 species of seeds and live plants.”

In another photo on the website, PA Governor Tom Corbett (R) is sitting with Secretary Grieg—this time in more serious demeanor—where they “talked with Huntingdon Co. residents and members of the agriculture community at a farm outside Tyrone to discuss the hardships they are facing due to rising property taxes driven by increasing pension costs.”

Gov. Corbett is hot about pensions, which seemingly weighed heavily on the minds of those in attendance at the Huntingdon County meeting. Gov. Corbett is also in hot water in regard to pensions. In late July Moody’s downgraded the state’s general obligations bonds from Aa2 to Aa3, “citing Pennslvania’s ‘large and growing public pension liabilities’ and the state’s use of one-time revenue to balance its budget.” Corbett is pushing a “hybrid pension plan” for new employees, which he himself has “conceded . . . would do nothing to reduce the $50 billion unfunded liability” in the pension funds. To top it all off, for one reason or another, he can’t get his proposals through the Republican-dominated state legislature.

Gov. Corbett, as you may recall, facilitated Royal Dutch Shell’s entry into the “cracker” (ethane) industry in southwestern PA, for which Shell was granted 15 years’ local and state tax exemptions.  Corbett was said to have received a million dollars in campaign funds from the oil and gas businesses, but he has denied that he did.  (Apparently, it’s difficult to adequately assess Corbett’s record since transparency is not a hallmark of his administration, at least according to his opponent.)

At any rate, in 2012 Gov. Corbett presided over passage of PA’s Marcellus Shale Law which provides “that all municipalities must allow Marcellus Shale well drilling in all zoning districts, including residential and municipalities, and may not limit hours of operation.” Other operations that must be allowed “in all zoning districts, including residential” are: water and wastewater pits from hydraulic fracking used to release the natural gas, compressor stations (which can also operate any time they want), gas processing plants and pipelines. The Marcellus Shale Law also stipulates that PA doctors can, in emergency situations, access a list of chemicals used in fracking operations, but they must keep the information confidential, including from their patients.  (More on the Marcellus Formation is here.)

Just this morning, there was news from PA’s own Department of Environmental Protection that “a fracking wastewater impoundment has leaked, contaminating groundwater and a nearby stream in southwestern Pennsylvania.”

Meanwhile, there’re all those suspicious seed lending activities operating in a few libraries around the state, oh my!

Photo by edibleoffice under Creative Commons license