Monday, June 1, 2015

International Seed Library Forum, May 2015, Tucson, Arizona.

International Seed Library Forum Seed Swap
“If you can look into the seeds of time 
And say which grain will grow and which will not, 
Speak, then, to me, who neither beg nor fear Your favors nor your hate.” 
Macbeth Act 1 Scene 2

Thirty-one years after the first national grassroots seed conference the city of Tucson, Arizona again led the way in the seed sovereignty and food security movement as the host to the first International  Seed Library Forum . This forum was organized by Gary Nabhan (Gary along with Mahina Drees and Cynthia Anson organized the first seed conference), Justine Hernandez and the staff of the Pima County Libraries.
The intent of this forum was “to further coalesce efforts by public libraries, non- profits, universities and food banks to increase the quality, accessibility and diversity of community seed resources and also assist all those involved with seed libraries to collectively address recent regulatory challenges."

Rebecca Newburn of Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library
 In recent years seed libraries have been sprouting all over the nation. Chris Shein and Sasha Du Brul started The Bay Area Seed Interchange Library in 2000 and this action influenced Rebecca Newburn, who in 2010 created a replicable model in the Richmond Grows Seed Library . This model launched a huge movement not just here in the US but internationally and there are now well over four hundred active seed libraries with many more in the planning stages. This grassroots action has evoked demands from some state regulation boards, which threaten to limit public access to local open pollinated seeds. (You can find your states seed law at  American Seed Trade Association ).

 So for three days at the beginning of May many seed enthusiasts, farmers, activists, public librarians, ethno-botanists, civil rights lawyers and curious individuals met at the Joel D. Valdez Public Library to participate in the open sharing of seed wisdom, local lore and best practices in the radical world of seed-saving, propagation and dispersal. The forum was a mix of panels, keynote addresses, a vibrant seed swap, film, poetry and seed stories and the participatory creation of a seed library resolution. Speakers included Justine Hernandez, librarian and seed activist; Bill McDorman of the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance; Rebecca Newburn of Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library; Gary Nabhan, author and food and farming activist; Scott Chaskey, farmer and the author of Seedtime; and Cary Fowler of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault/Special Advisor to the Global Crop Diversity Trust. These speakers eloquently rooted us in the history and mission of seed libraries, crop and seed diversity issues, effects of climate change on agriculture, importance of sharing not only our seeds but the stories they hold, the ethos of seed sharing, the idea of the commons and the importance of coming together to create a resolution for the seed library movement.

 SeedBroadcast was invited to be part of this forum by our friend and librarian Justine Hernandez who has been instrumental in the formation of the extremely successful seed library system for the Pima County Libraries. Justine, along with many of the librarians that attended this three day gathering hold the belief that open access and democratic sharing of knowledge and resources is essential and by adding local varieties of seeds to the library borrowing collection is an obvious community service that fits within the libraries missions.

SeedBroadcast rolled into Tucson just in time to set up for the seed swap that was held in the patio of the Loft Cinema. Seed swaps attract a wide diversity of seeds and people and this was no exception. Many of the nation’s seed libraries were represented by their unique seed collections along with Greenhorns, Seed Savers Exchange and local Tucson seed enthusiasts.

Pinole popcorn grown by Evan Sofro and Gary Nabhan

Local seed saver and his seed collection

Seed swaps create a feverish excitement with the potential to discover a new seed variety such as the special pinole popcorn or the purple fava bean with the cracked open strip revealing its white flesh that attracted me. I carried this one around in my pocket for days I could not help but pull it put now and then to show its beauty to a new seed-loving friend. Cary Fowler told me that this was called “pocket breeding”. We met Cary last year while SeedBroadcasting at the Telluride MountainFilm Festival and it was a delight to reconnect. Cary was at the forum to present the film Seeds of Time and to keep us informed of the many varieties of seeds that are being lost and the devastating impact this will have on our access to food in the future.

 For the duration of the forum we set up the Mobile Seed Story Broadcasting Station in the plaza outside the main library and juggled our time between the many panels and discussions, plotting with our seed-loving friends, and recording seed stories from attendees and local people that had heard we were in town and came by to share their seed stories.
Justine Hernandez and city workers visiting SeedBroadcast

Jacob Kearey-Moreland from the Toronto Seed Library
 The panels addressed a mixed variety of issues from seed library challenges, such as the state regulations, oral story banking, how to develop a mission for your seed library and many informative topics to help establish deeper roots for the seed library and food justice movement. Throughout the gathering Neil Thapar of the Sustainable Economies Law Center & Neil Hamilton of Drake University’s Agricultural Law Center, lead a participatory process to create a joint resolution. This resolution was invoked to help the seed movement address the regulatory challenges and to allow the movement to stand in solidarity around why seed libraries exist and why they stand outside the current seed legislation.

Bill McDorman presenting the Seed Library Joint Resolution
The invocation by Bill McDorman of this resolution created a celebratory collective finale for this gathering.
It was a packed few days full of shared graciousness and seed wisdom. Everyone holding the same deep love of true agricultural practices with a determination to make a stance to save our culturally relevant food systems and to create new democratic ways forward into a world that will be fit for our children’s children. It was a time of reconnection to seeds and people, the discovery of new connections and a renewed activation to keep this seed sovereignty and food security movement alive and healthy.

 “What are we doing that will be relevant in a thousand years”, asked Justine Hernandez on the first day of the forum. Many of us carried those words back home in our hearts. This was an amazing time of collective connectivity to what matters most in our lives.

There was no admission fee to this conference thanks to support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Amy P. Goldman Foundation, and the Arizona Library Association. This event was presented by a collaborative effort of: Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, Edible Baja Arizona magazine, The Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace’s Mission Gardens, The Loft Cinema, Mercado de San Agustín, Native Seeds/SEARCH, Pima County Public Library, and University of Arizona. Additional co-sponsors included Greenhorns, the National Young Farmers Association, the Seed Library Social Network, Seed Savers Exchange, and the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance.

SeedBroadcast would like to thank Justine Hernandez, the staff at the Pima County Libraries, Gary Nabhan and all the people who made time to share their stories with us.

Seed Stories from the International Seed Library Forum will be published in the next blog so stay tuned.

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