There is a wonderful article in the January issue of Acres USA detailing the rise of seed libraries over the past decade. The history of BASIL, which has been housed at the Ecology Center going on 13 years, is laid out as a fore-runner of many subsequent seed library projects. We’ve included an excerpt below, and want to remind BASIL fans that the 13th Annual Seed Swap is on the horizon! Save the date, Friday, March 30th, for some powerful people and plant connections.
Excerpt from “Sowing Revolution: Seed Libraries Offer Hope for Freedom of Food” by Bill McDorman & Stephen Thomas:
A consciousness shift is taking place around the politics of food in the modern world. People are waking up to the battle raging over our dinner plates and realizing that victory hinges upon who controls the tiny seeds that are the source of all sustenance. To restore our freedom over food, it is essential that every community have access to a collectively owned treasure chest of seeds. Seed libraries represent our best hope for reclaiming this independence. As an added benefit, they boost regional biodiversity and resiliency by encouraging the cultivation of new crop varieties adapted to local growing conditions. With global temperatures on the rise and financial markets plummeting, a robust network of community foodsheds to replace the shaky monolith of industrial agriculture has become imperative for human survival.
The seed library story begins, appropriately, with a rebellion. In late November 1999, thousands of anti-globalization activists descended on Seattle to protest a meeting of the World Trade Organization. The massive demonstrations shut down the city for days. Sascha DuBrul, a 24-year-old activist and New York native living in Berkeley, took part in the protests and returned to California charged with excitement. “It was a really vibrant time,” he recalls. “Here in the Bay Area, there were all these amazing projects starting up that are still around.”
Seeds were DuBrul’s newly discovered passion. While interning at a CSA farm in British Colombia the previous year, he became fascinated by the invigorating genetic relationships that arose when domestic crops intermingled with their wild relatives. Diversity was the key to the health of a community, he realized, be it plant or human. This idea had great relevance to urban spaces where people live in close quarters but thrive on cultural differences. “I had this vision of articulating the relationship between biological and cultural diversity, and bringing that idea to kids in the city,” says DuBrul.
That opportunity soon came following a Faustian deal between the University of California at Berkeley and the Swiss agribusiness giant Novartis. One of the first decrees under the alliance was for the eviction of an on-campus CSA farm to make way for trials of genetically modified corn. “There were all these seeds left over in a cabinet and nothing was going on,” recalls DuBrul. “So I thought, ‘Hey, why don’t we start a seed library?’ We could have a collection of seeds that people can take out, and then have regular seed saving workshops where gardeners can come and learn the basic techniques.” His vision quickly blossomed into the first seed lending library: the Bay Area Seed Interchange Library, or BASIL.
DuBrul counts an unlikely pair of inspirations behind his BASIL project: Gary Paul Nabhan, co-founder of Native Seeds/SEARCH and father of the local food movement, and the Black Panthers. “Reading [Nabhan’s] book Enduring Seeds rocked my world,” he says, “and the Panthers had this history of community controlled movements where people took over their communities for their own.” Over the next nine months BASIL flourished out of the nonprofit Ecology Center as a grassroots hub for seed saving and self-reliance in the Berkeley community.