Volume 25

Seed Libraries and Food Justice: Cultivating an Effective Legal and Policy Environment

by Ursula Ramsey

Farmers markets and community gardens, among other urban agriculture initiatives, are accepted and successful components of local healthy food access policies. There is, however, no farmers market without a garden and no garden without a seed. It is that first piece—the seed—which has recently gained the attention of state legislatures in the context of legalizing seed libraries. A seed library functions similarly to a traditional lending library in that it distributes seeds to patrons who, at harvest time, allow some of the plants to go to seed. Then, the patrons return those seeds to the library’s collection for use by the next patron.

Although seed libraries fit nicely with these other healthy food access initiatives, the uncertain legal environment within which they operate render seed libraries an underused component of an overall policy solution. Furthermore, seed libraries, like farmers markets and community gardens, hold the promise of providing healthy food to low-income community members. Thus, this Article argues that after legislatures amend state seed laws to allow seed libraries to operate legally in those states in which they cannot already, then seed libraries should be incorporated as a component of local healthy food access policies.

Part II of this Article explains the basic concept of a seed library, including the functions that seed libraries perform. Part III sets forth the federal and state laws that impact seed libraries. Part IV provides an overview of the current policy environment surrounding local healthy food access initiatives. Part V sets out three case studies of communities in which seed libraries complement their healthy food access policies. Finally, Part VI offers policy recommendations regarding the incorporation of seed libraries into local healthy food access initiatives.

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