Friday, December 19, 2014

A Blow to Seed Security and Seed Libraries

Our friends from Seed Freedom LA gathering for our first
press conference/rally in 2013

Only a few days from our rebuff at the Los Angeles City Council, a few interesting facts come to the surface that make the story a whole lot more 'interesting,' as in "may you live in interesting times" supposedly an old Chinese curse.  As I begin to write this, I cannot even title it.  I have smoke coming out of my ears and as I realize that Seed Freedom LA was defeated as a part of a much more broad campaign to take seeds from the hands of individual citizens and concentrate our food growing in the clutches of agri-business. 

I wish to introduce you to an essay by Britt Bailey who introduces a new twist to thickening plot on the Environmental Commons page.  I'd like you to go that page and read the whole essay, it covers more than I want to get into right here, but it shows that California's AB 2470, passed in our last legislative session, is part of a national trend where many state legislatures have passed bills so similar that the wordings are almost identical. In all cases they ban municipalities in that state from enacting laws that govern seeds.  
These states include Pennsylvania, Iowa, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Georgia, Oklahoma, Florida, Indiana, Texas, North Carolina, Arizona, West Virginia, Ohio, Kansas, and California.

And just to fluff out our lesson on seed sovereignty being under attack, I include here a link to California's AB 2470.  Just read it and absorb the power grab this bill holds!  It literally sets in place for the Secretary of Agriculture to create lists of plants that shall be grown in California as well as other equally heinous provisions.  

The secretary, by regulation, may adopt all of the following:
(a) A list of the plants and crops that the secretary finds are or may be grown in this state.
Of course today, it looks rather innocuous and dull, but I find this concept a disturbing possibility, especially if it is only one of many laws throughout the nation.  This could effectively mean the loss of all our heirloom crops; the secretary might mandate only GMO crops be grown, it just doesn't pass the smell test.

If we are to have a sane seed (food) policy, this law must go and in it's place a law that makes seed libraries a part of a public policy against the loss of seed sovereignty and creates the legal framework for us to continue our work in making sure our world is seed and food secure.



Monday, December 15, 2014

Like a New Year's Resolution: A Target!

Burgandy Okra Seeds - "On the hoof" 

A year ago I drew up a list of seeds I thought would be the ones to save – I asked around for others to suggest varieties that I might have missed, but there haven't been a lot of responses.

I was explaining to someone the other day that SLOLA has something like 200 varieties of vegetables in our bank and how I would rather have fewer varieties with larger quantities of each. He suggested that I was postulating the same lack of diversity I decry in the world of seed today.

After thinking about it for a couple of days, I think I have an answer to that accusation: It is better to save a fewer varieties of seed and save them well than to have hundreds of different varieties and save them poorly. I would like SLOLA to save all the seeds that will grow here successfully, but that could easily be more seeds than SLOLA can handle at present.

It is more important that we start where we are (we can't really start somewhere else, can we?) and begin to learn how to save seeds of several major varieties and have them on hand. At present, there aren't that many members who are experienced at growing out to seed. Those who can reliably grow plants out to seed need to apply themselves to growing out the difficult seeds and grow enough out to insure a supply on hand for the rest of our members.

Last year, compiling my list of seeds to save, I was heading east on I-70 through Illinois into Indiana ending up at Ft. Wayne to celebrate Christmas. I was in the back of a car with my little Netbook and using a Blackberry to be online. This year, I'm at home and surrounded by seed catalogs, including the two most often cited as 'veggie porn' catalogs (Seed Savers' Exchange and Baker Creek Heirlooms) and was able to use their listings to create the following list of seeds to save.

In compiling this list, I have relied a lot on my own experience with these different varieties and have selected those first. In addition, I have sought diversity of plants (not all early, but some early, some mid-season and some late, where the varieties allowed that). I also looked for performance in many different criteria – including, hardiness, production, flavor, uniqueness as well as historical significance and, in a few cases, we have varieties to save because they are a family heirloom that might be lost if we don't save them.

Some types of plants have many varieties to save and some just a few. Limiting factors could be 1.) lack of varieties; 2.) lack of varieties that do well in Southern Califonia; 3.) I am not familiar with many varieties and so choose to not make a decision (eggplant is an example) and 4.) one or two varieties are considered sufficient to supply the need. For example, in the case of cilantro, there are several (not many) named varieties on the market, but having grown all the cilantros I've found, the differences are negligible and so I simply list cilantro without any varieties. Slo-Bolt bolted faster for me than the cilantro have self seeding in my garden.

Here's the number one reason to share this: we seed savers in SLOLA need to hear from everyone who has suggestions for varieties of veggies to save. The Seed Savers Of Los Angeles need to build a list of seeds to save – a 'target' for us to shoot for. Email us via the blog or bring your list to any SLOLA meeting – I’ll be willing to add your suggestions to my list. Let's see if we can double this in the coming year!

This is a work in progress! OUR work!

Varieties of Vegetable Seeds I Believe We* Should Save


Green Globe

Beans (nominally
Phaseolus vulgaris)

Aquadulce (Fava)
Broad Windsor (Fava)
Cannelini Bush Bean (Dry/Bush)
Christmas (Lima/Climbing)
Envy (Soybean)
Golden Wax Bean (Wax/Bush)
Henderson (Lima/Bush)
Hutterite Soup
Pencil Pod (Wax/Bush)
Pineschi Family Bean (Vigna unguiculata)
Royal Burgundy Bean (Purple/Early)
Scarlet Runner (Phaseolus coccineus)

Bull's Blood
Crosby's Egyptian
Burpee's Golden
Detroit Dark Red
Yellow Cylindrical

Brussels Sprouts

Long Island Improved

Copenhagen Market Cabbage
Early Jersey Wakefield
Glory of Einkhuizan
Mammoth Red Rock
Perfection Drumhead Savoy
Premium Late Flat Dutch

Scarlet Nantes Carrot
Chantenay Red Core
Danvers Half Long
White Belgian

Early Snowball

Five Color Silverbeet Chard (AKA Rainbow Chard)
Fordhook Giant
Celery and Celeriac

Giant Prague (Celeriac)
Utah Tall (Celery)

Black Azte,
Country Gentleman Corn
Golden Bantam Corn
Oaxacan Green Dent
Stowells Evergreen
Corn (Popcorn)



Grains (except corn and wheat)

Quinoa, Shelly 25 Black
Sesame, Light Seeded

Blue Curled Scotch
Blue Solaise
King Richard

lBack Seeded Simpson
Brune d'Hiver
Drunken Woman Frizzy Head
Merveille des Quatre Saison
Parris Island Cos
Red Romaine
Rouge d'Hiver
Rouge Grenobloise
Tom Thumb
Webbs Wonderful
Yugoslavian Red

Green Nutmeg
Hale's Best
Metki White Serpent (cucumber)

Clemson Spineless
Don't Knowcra
Star of David

Red of Florence

Harris Model
Little Marvel
Tall Telephone
Oregon Sugar Pod
Sugar Snap
Corno di Toro
Italian Pepperoncini
Jalapeno Early
Jimmy Nardello Italian
Red Marconi
Squash – Summer
Lebanese White Bush Marrow
Zucchini – Lungo Bianco
Squash - Winter

Black Futsu
Marina di Chioggia
Queensland Blue Squash
Sweet Meat

Amish Paste
Big Rainbow
Black Cherry
Black From Tula
Black Icicle
Cherokee Purple
Cream Sausage
Orange Banana
Orange Icicle
Roman Candle
San Marzano
San Remo
Striped Roman
Wapsipinicon Peach

Purple Top White Globe

Federation 126
Perennial Wheat
Sonoran White


*“We” being the Seed Library of Los Angeles   

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Tis the Season To Be Seedy

It's a good time of year to reflect.  And it's excellent for the Seed Library of Los Angeles' members to reflect at this time of year because today, the 4th of December is the library's 'birthday.'  On December 4th, 2010 the first group of people met on the patio of The Learning Garden and began to formulate what everyone sees today as this marvelous seed library serving the Los Angeles area - which continues to grow monthly!  

From twenty four members present at that first meeting, we have over 800 members today, and many of those original members not only serve on our board but are some of our most able seed savers.  We are stable organization with officer elections in January.  We have more varieties of seeds we can handle and we have some wonderful success stories of saving varieties of seeds from extinction.  SLOLA has taken on some of our own breeding and countless talks have been given all over Los Angeles to audiences of 3rd graders to groups of elderly folks.  This last month we spoke at Otis College of Art and Design on saving seeds, Santa Monica College debating the efficacy of GMOs and UC Santa Barbara about saving seeds.  The message of seed saving and diversity is getting out with even non-gardeners and farmers becoming aware that our food supply is at risk because our seed supply is at risk.

Seed libraries have blossomed all over the United States - they are something local citizens can do and a way to participate in our saving our seeds from patents and the industrial model of growing food from manipulated genetics and poisons.  Seed libraries are the result of the innate knowledge that all gardening is local and diversity is what will prevent starvation, not patented seeds. 

In fact we might be a little too popular and maybe doing enough good in the world that we've pissed some big boy agriculture companies off.  Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (DoA) forced a newly forming library to shut down because they were not conforming to the seed laws imposed on commercial ventures; Maryland's DoA concurred and threatened to apply the same approach to any seed libraries formed in that state; Nebraska's DoA served notice on the seed libraries in that state to cease and desist.  

And Big Ag pulled their overalls up high and struck in the middle of the night.  In Sacramento, California in the last session of the year, our legislatures passed AB 2470, one of the most onerous of bills we've seen come down in modern times.  AB 2470 does a number of things, all of them bad.  I have a lot more to say about AB 2470 that will wait until after the first of the year, but today, on the fourth anniversary of SLOLA, I only want to deal with one:  the provision that makes it illegal for municipalities to make seed laws without the approval of the state's secretary of agriculture.  This law takes effect this coming January 1st, 2015.  If we want to have Los Angeles be a sanctuary for non-GMO seeds, we HAVE to have our bill passed by city council before December 31 to be grand-fathered in.

We are calling on all gardeners in Los Angeles to please come to LA City Council meeting on Tuesday, December 09, to stand in solidarity with us and have Los Angeles declared a GMO Free Zone!  Meet us in council chambers, on the third floor, in City Hall between Spring and Main Streets and Temple and First Streets - entrance on Main. If you oppose GMOs and have done nothing this year to oppose them, now is your chance to redeem and deguilt yourself!  We want, we really want, that chamber filled with supporters!   

This law will only be applied to seeds and to plants.  It will protect the plants grown in Los Angeles from genetically engineered pollen, so your corn and your beets and chard cannot be contaminated and can remain untainted. This law will not change anything in your grocery store, because we cannot legislate that.  It only applies to seeds and to the plants grown in LA.  Because there are currently no - or very little - GMO crops grown in the city, the economic hit will be slight but the economic boon could prove to be very lucrative!

With all the motions and laws that LA City Council has already passed, this law will be a substantial underpinning of the nascent urban agriculture movement in Los Angeles.  With produce that is legally protected from genetic alteration, our produce will have more cache. And every dollar spent on buying LA grown produce will stay in the community - unlike fast food, that money will contribute to LA and not to some far off corporate headquarter entity.  We build a better Los Angeles - and the people growing the food, entrepreneurs employ other Angelenos to help them and that is more money circulating in LA's economy.  

If food and gardens are important to you, please come to City Council this coming Tuesday morning, December 09 and stand in solidarity with us as the motion is introduced - if you have a garden apron, or garden shoes, wear them!  Be a gardener among gardeners pointing the way towards the new future of food in Los Angeles and the World! 

And all the blessings of the season to you and yours - and may your gardens be bountiful and delicious and forever GMO Free!

More can be found with these two blogs:


Saturday, November 22, 2014

August 2014 Minutes

As we used to do, we are returning to our promise to make the Board of Directors' meetings available online to be fully transparent.

August meeting - MINUTES
16 August 2014
Meeting began at 1:20pm

Present:  David King, Chair, Lucinda Zimmermann, Treasurer, Patty Kestin, Pat Ruiz, Lori Bennett, Linda Pruess, Kieanna Jolaei, Secretary, Paula Kleihauer, Benita Robinson 

-Board Retreat unfinished business
-Treasurer report $50 towards booth payment
-“Seed of the Season” – What’s its going to be?
-Seed return info sheets
-Printer Fliers status – how many?
-Heritage Expo

-Interim Membership chair (Patty)
-New candidate for Seed Librarian (Pat)
-Notes on Seed Library legalities
-Relating the retreat to the membership

Treasurer's report: $8,161.97
We have been given $50 from people up north towards the Santa Rosa Heirloom Festival booth costs

Discussion: Seed of the Season for Cool season

MOTION: use a pea for the seed of the season, will purchase at the expo, distribute at September meeting. Variety TBD.
September meeting with be about growing & harvesting seeds.
>> tomato testing
>> pea speaker?

Labels with directions re instructions on how to grow and variety

-Seed info sheet / guidelines re returning seeds
>> David & Pat to finish
>> Expect to pass out at September meeting.

MOTION: for 2000 fliers – Linda to order

1:36pm – Albert arrives

-Patty to do PR in interim

-Committee meeting for heirloom festival
>> David, Linda, Lucinda, Albert
>> fix parking, pick displays, Linda to bring posters

MOTION: to make Pat seed librarian
MOTION: confirmed that Kieanna resigns as seed librarian to become Secretary.
MOTION: to reimburse any invited speakers for .50 cents per mile
>> pay for speakers
>> speaker fund $1000 per year to include mileage)

-Budget meeting

MOTION TO ADJOURN by Lori Bennett, seconded by Paula; passed unanimously at 2:05 PM

Respectfully submitted,  
Kieanna Jolaei

TODAYS MEETING: Announcements
-peppers, beans
-Linda speaks about retreat
-Kieanna re volunteers
-Pat new librarian

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Seed Libraries Are Not Commercial Enterprises

 First, all seed offered to library patrons to check out should be from a licensed seed dealer, properly labeled, and in date for the calendar year.  Each year would require updated seed packets from a seed dealer.  Returning any seeds to the library would not be allowed; meetings to swap harvested seeds are encouraged instead. Lois Capshaw, Chief, Turf & Seed Section, Maryland Department of Agriculture

With the recent rash of legal attention on seed libraries, I am appalled at the lack of recognition from Departments of Agriculture in both Pennsylvania and Maryland that seed libraries fulfill an important, I would say 'vital,' part of our food infrastructure that ensures we have a vibrant and viable food system in this country. Seed libraries go beyond what commercial seed companies can do and fill a niche left sadly neglected for the most of the past 50 years.

These agencies want to treat us as commercial seed houses, when in fact, we are nothing like commercial seed houses.  They have said (as above) that seed libraries should buy fresh seed every year to distribute to their members. That admits an appalling  lack of appreciation for what we actually do.  

A seed library operates outside of the commercial marketplace because the commercial market place has failed us.  The seeds we want are already no longer offered or are in danger of being discontinued in short order.  

This chart, from National Geographic, July 2011, dramatically shows the loss of biodiversity that has been lost.  This chart poignantly illustrates the loss of diversity in about 80 years. That we allowed this loss of biodiversity in the first place is stunning and there is no commercially viable way to return to the diversity of long ago. Most of this loss was incurred because of the lack of diversity in seed companies. As seed companies purchased other seed companies, diversity was lost in order to remain profitable.

Seed libraries, outside the constraints of profit/loss, are able to curate collections of seeds that can counter that erosion of biological diversity so central to the idea of a robust food system. We cannot (will not) depend on outside sources for seed as that defeats one of our primary purposes - to grow and maintain locally adapted seeds.  A part of the folly of modern agriculture is the loss of the concept that all farming (gardening) is local in nature and cannot be consolidated into the hands of even super-regional companies, let alone the huge multi-nationals that rule the roost today.  The loss of our food crops' biodiversity, with incumbent chances of massive crop failures, invites a compromised food system dependent on a few corporations that are as blind as the regulators trying to regulate them and us in the same breath.  We are, in this respect, no better off than Ireland c 1840 and the potato famine, as far as the gene pool for our primary food crops.  Seed libraries form a backstop to this loss of biodiversity and keep alive the varieties that have fed humans over hundreds of years.  Seed libraries are an absolute essential part of a vibrant food supply, augmenting the commercial sector with varieties that are no longer carried or marginalized in their distribution.  It used to be considered that varieties dropped by seed companies were poorly performing ones, but we can now see the consolidation of the seed industries caused far too many varieties to be dropped in favor of a better balance sheet.  This may be acceptable business practice but unacceptable food policy.  

From about 800 members of SLOLA, probably 150 are serious about saving seeds - they are good gardeners and good seed stewards:  They know what they are doing, no one is mistaking noxious weeds for broccoli or green beans.  From those 150, there are about 30 that have the land, the time and the knowledge, and upon these people, most of the seed saving devolves.  This year, I am growing out one tomato (Burbank's Slicer - a program I have invested four years of breeding effort), three beans (Pencil Pod, a Native American tepary bean and a family heirloom from Italy almost lost when the current family member didn't grow it out for many years) and two corn varieties (Country Gentleman, aka Shoepeg, and Mohawk Red Bread).  One person can contribute a lot if they know what they are doing and controlling the pollination as needed.  
Luther Burbank Red Slicer Tomatoes
harvested for seed.
Of those, Burbank's Slicing Tomato has been discontinued by almost all commercial seed houses.  It is not easy to find the seed - we are working with the seed to restore the Slicer to the size it was when Burbank introduced it in the beginning of the last century. The Seed Library of Los Angeles hopes to get it back into the shape Luther gave to us and then get this seed back in the trade - it is too valuable a tomato to let go by the wayside - and besides, it's Luther Burbank!  But it probably isn't a commercially viable project - it's a seed library project and the passion of a couple people for all things Burbank.

The Pineschi bean has been in the Pineschi family since they emigrated to the US from Italy.  Passed from generation to generation, the bean had not been grown out successfully for many years.  We were gifted a spice jar of these bean seeds and from our original 100 beans planted, only four plants produced.  We will work for years on this bean to get enough seed to be able to offer it to our members and give a quantity of fresh seed back to the family.  That is not a commercially viable project.  But what price can one put on living family heirlooms? 

The Mohawk Red Bread Corn is an experiment, my first year growing it out.  If it works well, I will be happy to try my hand at making cornbread (one of my personal comfort foods) with it. And eventually this rare indigenous variety will be available to the members of the seed library.  

Vibrant and viable seed libraries are essential to our lives today as agriculture continues to amalgamate and narrow its focus down to only a few crops that, with government subsidies, are profitable for farmers. Our food supply may soon one day depend, at least in part, on local libraries.  These libraries must be robust and viable. 

The past 50 years - over my lifetime - have proven to me we cannot trust such vital matters to industry or government.  The focus in both cases is wrong - misled by balance sheets and seduced by the large corporation version of feeding the world.  Seeds are life. "Yo soy maize" ("I am corn") is heard a lot in our Latin American communities.  We 
are all the seeds we grow.  That simple, profound truth must be our guiding light and cannot be given over to large corporations.  it remains a local community effort in all cases and preserves more seed in aggregate than the much touted seed bank at Svalbard possibly can. 

As it stands now, there is dispute that the law means what the departments of ag say it means.  There are different interpretations, but certainly, seed libraries do not circumvent the spirit of the law.  We are not commercial enterprises.  But we perform a viable service that is not approached in the commercial seed business today.  The work we do is vital on this one issue alone - and there is certainly much more.

There must be an absolute guarantee that we can keep our seeds for redistribution to our members - this is not negotiable.  Way too much work and time goes into selecting a variety for performance year after year; to put that time and effort at risk is patently unacceptable. People who do this work, know what they are doing and do it well. We must be permitted to accept seeds back from our members -that is how our library grows. Neither of these practices are open for discussion:  they are the heart and soul of seed libraries and we can brook no compromise in this position. 

My grandfather saved his seeds for most of his 90 year life time. The only time he bought seed was if he had a crop failure.

I should one day be so fortunate.


Purchasing fresh seeds annually is unacceptable because:
a.) the seeds are not now, or soon might not be, available
b.) seeds brought in fresh each year are not adapted to local conditions
c.) seeds purchased each year is an expense people in marginalized communities cannot bear
d.) indigenous peoples' seeds are never maintained by commercial seed houses - the only way they are propagated and distributed in the main is through non-commercial seed libraries and exchanges
e.)  the seeds already being grown locally comprise a viable and valuable gene pool that must be curated to avoid losing that biological diversity
f.) the only way for a bioregion to be food secure is through seed security - in other words, having our own seeds already in the community and not being dependent on large corporations with balance sheets that do not care if people in our local community can afford to eat

Monday, August 4, 2014

Are Seed Libraries Illegal?

Recently a story came across our Facebook feed that told of an action taken by the Pennsylvania Dept of Agriculture that seemed foreboding.  In brief, the PA Dept of Agriculture, went to an organizing meeting for a new seed library in the town's public library (a senior official and ag agents!) and claimed it posed a threat of "eco-terrorism" urging the community library to disband the project, which, of course, they did.  After reading the story, a number of SLOLA members had a fast and furious correspondence on Facebook supplemented by text messages and phone calls; was this a concern we could be facing?  The answer appears to be: Definitely a maybe.

Showing children the seeds, letting them touch them
and see the amazing diversity of just one plant: corn.

We found the California codes on the same subject and they had the same wording as the Pennsylvania codes - in fact, we have learned since that almost every state uses the same language, taken from the Federal laws, so there is consistency. So it seems that Pennsylvania could be the harbinger of future actions in other states.  The language that seems to be critical to seed libraries comes towards the top of the code, in definitions, where it states: 

"Sell" includes offer for sale, expose for sale, possess for sale, exchange, barter or trade."

The italics are mine.  That is where I think seed libraries seem to cross with this law. Until this action, state departments of agriculture have not thought of seed libraries as dens of terrorists or people proposing to grow noxious weeds, but who knows what lurks in the hearts of Pennsylvanian gardeners?  After all, it is the home of the Rodale 'empire' and Mike McGrath, gardening radio personality with a decidedly irreverent streak, and all those Amish seed savers and William Woys Weaver.  I can fathom where they begin to see their seed saving gardeners as truly a hotbed of insurrection.  However, there appears, at least to me, some wiggle room around this wording - after all, do we barter, exchange or trade?  Are we not simply 'lending' seeds to members who have agreed to our model of seed saving?  

If this does apply to seed libraries, we are in for some interesting times ahead because, it seems, we will be responsible for seed germination tests, and labeling requirements.  I'm sure we can find ways around this (declare the seed to be 'substandard' and do away with subjecting our seeds to the germ test entirely). But that's only two of many requirement and the totality of these laws might make seed libraries an onerous burden to the public libraries that house many of them.  We have questions, but at this time no answers.

In the meantime, SLOLA is seeking a pro bono attorney to help us decipher the legalese.  Look for more information on this and our responses to it coming up.  We aren't going away and hopefully all seed libraries can use whatever we find in regards this legal morass

Keep your dial on this station - as some folks say, "more will be revealed."